Gaiman, Neil 1960-
(Full name Neil Richard Gaiman) English novelist, short-story writer, essayist, nonfiction writer, editor, screenwriter, playwright, graphic novelist, comic book writer, and author of picture books and juvenile fiction.
The following entry presents an overview of Gaiman's career through 2004.
Gaiman is a central figure in the emergence of the "graphic novel," a genre which combines novelistic storylines with comic book graphics. He has won numerous awards for his best-selling, critically acclaimed comic books and novels that combine elements of science fiction, horror, dark fantasy, ancient mythology, and biblical allegory. However, though many of his previous works have appealed to young adult audiences, in 1997, Gaiman released his first foray into the genre of children's literature—the picture book The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish (1997). Gaiman continued his partnership with illustrator Dave McKean in two subsequent children's works, the Gothic juvenile novel Coraline (2002) and the eerie picture book The Wolves in the Walls (2003). In all three works, Gaiman creates fantastic worlds filled with dangers and amusements, developing child protagonists who utilize courage and common sense to sidestep mishaps that adults seem unable to avoid.
Gaiman was born November 10, 1960, in Portchester, England. His father owned a vitamin-pill factory, and his mother was a pharmacist. As a child, Gaiman was an avid reader and developed a passion for comic books. He graduated from the Whitgift School in 1977 and began working as a freelance writer and journalist in London. Although his fervor for comic books had declined during his adolescence, the emergence of graphic novels in the mid-1980s re-fueled his ardor for the genre. In 1987 he published his first comic book, Violent Cases, illustrated by Dave McKean. Shortly thereafter, Gaiman began working for DC Comics, the publishers of Batman and Superman. DC allowed Gaiman to completely reinvent one of their more obscure characters, the Sandman, and Gaiman's resulting Sandman series became one of the most award-winning and acclaimed comic book series of all time. Gaiman has since authored numerous comics, graphic novels, short stories, novels, and—beginning with The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish—children's books. In 1996 he wrote a six-part television series for the BBC, Neverwhere, which he later adapted into a full-length novel. In 2004 Gaiman released his first work ever for Marvel Comics, 1602, which became the best-selling comic book of 2004. 2005 saw the premiere of Mirrormask, a film that Gaiman wrote for the Jim Henson Company, which was designed and directed by Dave McKean. Gaiman served as Chair of the Soci-ety of Comic Strip Illustrators from 1988 to 1990 and sits on the advisory board of the International Museum of Cartoon Art. He is also a major contributor and active fundraiser for the Comic Legal Defense Fund, an anti-censorship lobbying organization. Gaiman lives in Minnesota with his wife and three children.
Gaiman originally came to prominence among young adult audiences with DC Comics' Sandman series, comprised of seventy-five issues, which were originally published as individual comic books between 1988 and 1996 and republished in ten multi-volume graphic novels. The eponymous hero of the Sandman series—who is variously called Dream, Morpheus, the Lord of the Dreaming, and the Prince of Stories—is a member of a family of seven supernatural beings, known collectively as the Endless, each one representing different states of mind: Death, Delirium, Desire, Destruction, Despair, Destiny, and Dream. The figure of Death is depicted as a good-natured young woman dressed in punk-rock fashion, while Delirium is portrayed as a loquacious girl with green and pink hair who walks around with a pet fish on a leash. The Sandman, Dream, is a scrawny, sallow man with deep sunken eyes and a shock of black hair. Dream rules over The Dreaming, a fantastical realm which humans can enter only when they sleep. The accoutrements necessary to his powers include a pouch of magical sand, a helmet, and a ruby dream jewel. Gaiman informed DC Comics that he wished to end the Sandman series while it was at its height, rather than continuing it indefinitely. He thus describes the death of the Sandman in issue sixty-nine, although the series continued for six more issues before the epic tale was complete. Gaiman has since published several spin-off graphic novels that feature the Sandman but are separate from the storyline of the original series. During and after his run on Sandman, Gaiman further expanded his literary cache by publishing a series of successful novels for older audiences, including Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (1990), Stardust: Being a Romance within the Realms of Faerie (1998), American Gods (2001), and Anansi Boys (2005).
However, in 1997, Gaiman released his first work specifically directed towards young and beginning readers. The picture book, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, illustrated by Gaiman's longtime comic book collaborator Dave McKean, combines elements of the surreal with the absurdly comic. The narrator, a young boy, trades his father to a friend for two goldfish. When the narrator's mother finds out, the boy begins a quest to reverse the trade—a task made difficult since his friend has already traded the boy's father to another child. To compliment Gaiman's text, McKean's artwork creates an unusual pastiche of line drawings, paintings, and collage. Gaiman's next book for children, Coraline, is a juvenile novel intended for older readers. Written in a style similar to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Coraline creates a fantasy adventure in a bizarre, nonsensical world. The title character is a young girl whose family has just moved into a portion of a house that has been divided into apartments. The other occupants are eclectic but the oddest aspect of the apartment is a locked door that, when opened, reveals a solid brick wall. One day, a bored Coraline finds a way to unlock the door and is surprised to encounter an apartment similar to her own. She enters the apartment and finds a mirror-world complete with doppelgangers of her mother and father, only these versions of her parents have buttons for eyes. The "other" mother promises Coraline anything she wishes, but Coraline soon discovers a sinister element in the parallel apartment and chooses to return home, only to find that the "other" mother has kidnapped her real parents. With the help of an equivocating feline and the ghosts of children previously trapped by the "other" mother, Coraline attempts to rescue her parents and defeat her maternal nemesis. Gaiman blends the scary, fantasy world of Coraline with the silliness of The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish in his second picture book, The Wolves in the Walls. The protagonist, Lucy, warns her parents that there are wolves living in the walls of their house and that the creatures are trying to get out. Her parents' disbelief turns to helplessness when the wolves do escape and chase the family out of their home. The family lives in the garden until Lucy decides to fight back and reclaim their house.
Critical response to Gaiman's literature for children has been largely positive. Reviewers have commented that Gaiman's proficiency with the conventions of multiple literary mediums has enabled him to reject standard genre rules and create unique situations for his child protagonists. Gaiman's continuing collaboration with artist Dave McKean has also been highly applauded; critics have contended that McKean's illustrations skillfully add to the absurdity and humor of Gaiman's texts. Some have questioned whether the mildly scary themes present in Coraline and The Wolves in the Walls are appropriate for young readers, but both works have been widely embraced by children and librarians alike. Commentators have noted Gaiman's frequent employment of fantasy and fairy tale elements in his children's books, often comparing his texts with the works of Lewis Carroll, C. S. Lewis, and Philip Pullman. Iain Emsley has argued that, in their collaborations, "Gaiman and McKean have successfully resurrected the nonsense form and recreated it for a modern audience. They have taken what had seemed to be a forgotten part of children's literary heritage and remade it in their own image, capable of carrying a modern story with its own considerable weight."
Gaiman's Sandman series was awarded nine Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, including the award for best writer four times, and three Harvey Awards. Sandman issue 19 took the 1991 World Fantasy Award for best short story, making it the first comic ever to be awarded a literary award. Gaiman won the Mythopoeic Award for best novel for adults for Stardust and was awarded the Hugo Award, the Bram Stoker Award, the Horror Writers Association award, the Nebula Award, and the World Fantasy Award for American Gods. The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish was chosen by Newsweek for their list of best children's books of 1997, and Coraline received the Elizabeth Burr/Worzalla Award, the British Science Fiction Association Award, the Bram Stoker Award, the Hugo Award, and the Nebula Award. Coraline was also nominated for the Prix Tam Tam Award. The New York Times named The Wolves in the Walls one of the best illustrated books of 2003, and that same year, Gaiman's Sandman: Endless Nights (2003) became the first graphic novel to ever appear on the New York Times bestseller list.
Violent Cases [illustrations by Dave McKean] (graphic novel) 1987
Don't Panic: The Official "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" Companion (nonfiction) 1988; revised with David K. Dickson and republished as Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," 1993
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch [with Terry Pratchett] (novel) 1990
The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes [illustrations by Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg; originally published in The Sandman, issues 1-8 in 1988-1989] (graphic novel) 1990
The Sandman: The Doll's House [illustrations by Chris Bachalo and Mike Dringenberg; originally published in The Sandman, issues 9-16 in 1989-1990] (graphic novel) 1990
The Sandman: Dream Country [illustrations by Kelley Jones and Colleen Doran; originally published in The Sandman, issues 17-20 in 1990] (graphic novel) 1991
The Sandman: Season of Mists [illustrations by Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg, and Matt Wagner; originally published in The Sandman, issues 21-28 in 1990-1991] (graphic novel) 1992
Signal to Noise [illustrations by Dave McKean] (graphic novel) 1992; adapted as a radio play, 1996
∗Angels and Visitations: A Miscellany (short stories) 1993
The Books of Magic [illustrations by John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, and Paul Johnson; originally published in four issues in 1990-1991] (graphic novel) 1993
The Sandman: Fables and Reflections [illustrations by Bryan Talbot, Stan Woch, Duncan Eagleson, and Jill Thompson; originally published in The Sandman, issues 29-31, 38-40, 50 in 1991-1993] (graphic novel) 1993
The Sandman: A Game of You [illustrations by Shawn McManus, Colleen Doran, and Bryan Talbot; originally published in The Sandman, issues 32-37 in 1991-1992] (graphic novel) 1993
Death: The High Cost of Living [illustrations by Chris Bachalo and Mark Buckingham; originally published in three issues in 1993] (graphic novel) 1994
The Sandman: Brief Lives [illustrations by Jill Thompson; originally published in The Sandman, issues 41-49 in 1992-1993] (graphic novel) 1994
Snow, Glass, Apples (radio play) 1994; revised as Snow Glass Apples: A Play for Voices, 2002
The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch: A Romance [illustrations by Dave McKean] (graphic novel) 1994
The Sandman: World's End [illustrations by Bryan Talbot, Michael Zulli, Shea Anton Pensa, and Gary Amano; originally published in The Sandman, issues 51-56 in 1993] (graphic novel) 1995
Neverwhere (screenplay) 1996; adapted as a novel, 1997
The Sandman: Book of Dreams [editor; with Edward E. Kramer] (short stories) 1996
The Sandman: The Kindly Ones [illustrations by Marc Hempel, Richard Case, D'Israeli, Teddy Kristiansen, Blyn Dillon, Charles Vess, Dean Ormston, and Devin Nowlan; originally published in The Sandman, issues 57-69 in 1994-1995] (graphic novel) 1996
The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish [illustrations by Dave McKean] (picture book) 1997
Death: The Time of Your Life [illustrations by Chris Bachalo, Mark Pennington, and Mark Buckingham; originally published in three issues in 1996] (graphic novel) 1997
The Sandman: The Wake [illustrations by Michael Zulli, Jon J. Muth, Bryan Talbot, John Ridgway, and Charles Vess; originally published in The Sandman, issues 70-75 in 1995-1996] (graphic novel) 1997
Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions (short stories) 1998
Stardust: Being a Romance within the Realms of Faerie [illustrations by Charles Vess; originally published in four parts in 1997-1998] (novel) 1998
Princess Mononoke [adaptor; from the Japanese screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki] (screenplay) 1999
Sandman: The Dream Hunters [illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano] (graphic novel) 1999
American Gods (novel) 2001
Coraline [illustrations by Dave McKean] (juvenile fiction) 2002
Murder Mysteries [illustrations by P. Craig Russell] (graphic novel) 2002
The Sandman: Endless Nights [illustrations by Glenn Fabry, Milo Manara, Miguelanxo Prado, Frank Quitely, P. Craig Russell, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Barron Storey] (graphic novel) 2003
The Wolves in the Walls [illustrations by Dave McKean] (picture book) 2003
1602 [illustrations by Andy Kubert; originally published in eight issues in 2003-2004] (graphic novel) 2004
Anansi Boys (novel) 2005
Mirrormask (screenplay) 2005
∗This work was later expanded and republished as Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions in 1998.
Neil Gaiman and Heidi Henneman (interview date 2003)
SOURCE: Gaiman, Neil, and Heidi Henneman. "Crossing Over: Adult Author Neil Gaiman Enters the World of Children's Books." BookPage (online magazine) http://www.bookpage.com/0308bp/neil_gaiman.html (2003).
[In the following interview, Gaiman discusses the impetus behind his children's book The Wolves in the Walls and the difficulties he had writing the book.]
His kids made him do it—or at least inspired him to do it. That's how British author Neil Gaiman claims he began writing stories for young readers. "The thing about children's books that many people don't understand is that beloved children's books are read not once, but many times," he says.
The award-winning author of the adult novels American Gods and Neverwhere, as well as the Sandman graphic novel series, Gaiman learned this lesson about children's books by reading to his own kids. When his son was young, he loved a book called Catch the Red Bus, and Gaiman spent night after night reading the story to the boy, often more than once at a sitting. The repetition taught Gaiman that children's books should be fun—not just for kids, but for adults as well.
Gaiman has written two previous children's titles, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish and Coraline, a New York Times bestseller. His new book, The Wolves in the Walls, is a quirky, hilarious tale that's fun to read—over and over.
The concept for Wolves came from the author's young daughter, who had a bad dream one night. "She was convinced there were wolves in the walls," says Gaiman, "and as she described them to me, I immediately knew that I would steal the idea for a book." Not long after, he sat down and wrote the first draft of the story. "I didn't like it at all," says Gaiman. Instead of rewriting it, however, he decided to abandon it. After about eight months, he tried once more, but again, he didn't like it, and again, he abandoned the story. Another eight months passed. Then one night, Gaiman suddenly woke up in bed and thought, "When the wolves come out of the walls, it's all over!" This, apparently, was just the idea he needed to bring the book to life. That afternoon, he wrote the entire story, to perfection. "It took me one afternoon to write it," says Gaiman, "but also two-and-a-half years."
Shortly thereafter, Gaiman began reading the story at signings for his adult books, and the reception was overwhelmingly positive. "I was astonished at how incredibly popular a short story for children was to adults," says Gaiman. He then passed the story along to Dave McKean, his long-time collaborator and the illustrator of Coraline and the Sandman series.
McKean's shadowy, atmospheric pictures, which mix drawings and photographic images to create a collage-like effect, are the perfect match for Gaiman's spooky yet humorous story. The heroine, Lucy, is sure she hears the scurrying of furry beasts behind the walls. When the wolves finally burst forth, they drive Lucy, her parents and her brother out of the house and into the garden. McKean's ingenious illustrations bring the wild and wacky animals to life, as they make themselves at home, dressing up in Lucy's father's clothes, turning on the telly and consuming the family's stash of strawberry jam.
"Since I had stolen the idea from my daughter, I thought it was only fair to have some element of [McKean's] family in the book as well," says Gaiman. This came in the form of a pig-puppet that McKean's son had treasured. "Some kids have blankets", recalls Gaiman, "but this one had a pig-puppet, and his parents could never get it away from him long enough to even wash it." Thus, in the book Lucy is the proud owner of a pig-puppet. The result: a thoroughly inspired Gaiman-McKean family production.
Gaiman's next project is a "proper, honest-to-goodness picture book" entitled Crazy Hair. It's a Dr. Seuss-type story, and he admits that it's a bit "goofy."
Yet it's this very quirkiness that makes Gaiman's work so appealing. "There's a strange joy in doing these children's books," he says, "and getting into not only children's heads, but the heads of their parents as well." With The Wolves in the Walls, Gaiman does both.
Iain Emsley (essay date October 2003)
SOURCE: Emsley, Iain. "The Walls Have Ears." January Magazine (online magazine) http://januarymagazine.com/kidsbooks/wolvesinwalls.html (October 2003).
[In the following essay, Emsley examines Gaiman's The Wolves in the Walls and Coraline in regards to their position in the children's fantasy canon. Emsley notes that The Wolves in the Walls and Coraline share many thematic elements with C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia.]
In recent years, we have seen the growth of children's fantasy, the increasing debates about its purpose (if any) and also the internal debates with literary ancestors, particularly in the case of Philip Pullman's attacks on C. S. Lewis' Narnia which have seen a firm attempt at rebuttal in G. P. Taylor's Shadowmancer. Yet modern children's fantasy has taken a broadly similar line in its form, namely the use of secondary worlds.
Throughout his career, Neil Gaiman has demonstrated himself as a superb teller of tales, unconcerned about crossing supposed boundaries in his graphic novels and earlier writings. In interviews he has stated that he is more concerned with the development of a story rather than worrying about what conventions it needs, following the idea that genres are only guidelines not rules, as shown in American Gods where he casually drops short stories into the main novel, so reinforcing the narrative flow. He is also brilliant at reusing for-gotten forms, such as the fairy tale in Stardust or reflecting upon what traditional children's literature is in Coraline. He shows himself to be a literary archaeologist and a supreme experimenter in form in his most recent book, Wolves in the Walls. He and Dave McKean have created a melange of nonsense and cautionary tales, where there is precious little moralizing but a real sense of a truth being portrayed and worked out in a humorous fashion. There is a sense of humor and joy that pervades the book as well as redeveloping other forms and modes.
The idea for Wolves in the Walls came from a nightmare that Gaiman's youngest daughter, Maddy, had where she could hear the wolves scrabbling around in the wall and she related this to her father. This was followed by her father telling her several tales where they were caught by the wolves but managed to escape, this enabling Maddy to cope with the terror initiated by the nightmare. After several false starts, Gaiman finally created the current book in tandem with Dave McKean. Through the novel, Gaiman alludes to the cautionary tale of the little boy who cried wolf with Lucy's repeated warnings about the wolves. Even the adults mention that this bodes ill for them but they fail to heed the warning. Lucy takes the consequences of this ignorance at face value and so turns the tables on the wolves but the ending is still open. The motive for taking action is uniquely childlike: it is the need to rescue her favorite bedtime toy that motivates Lucy to retake the house for the family, whereas the parents are considering moving to new pastures.
Acknowledging Lewis Carroll as an influence, Gaiman uses the nonsense tradition in his illustrated books, drawing from the absurdities in wonderland rather than the use of a secondary world. Gaiman and Dave McKean renew nonsense for an audience seemingly unfamiliar with the mode through the close mixture of words and images. Since the 1950s, secondary worlds in the vein of Tolkien and Lewis have dominated children's fantasy but Gaiman has created a wonderful story which draws from traditional nonsense in the vein of Lear and Lewis Carroll.
Dave McKean, Gaiman's long time collaborator in a multitude of projects, has illustrated the book and the words and images work to counterbalance each other, bringing different aspects to life in the story in the best tradition of illustrated novels, such as Tenniels or Peakes illustrations in Alice in Wonderland. McKean's illustrations develop the mood of the novel, moving from intensely fun and carnivalesque to the glowering and stormy, reacting with Gaiman's prose with the ease that comes from their long term creative relationship. Rather than making up portmanteau words like Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll, they create a nonsense that works with both text and image, such as the charming view of the wolves sliding down the banisters wearing the family's clothes or the images of ice cream and buns strewn all over the page when the wolves are finally evicted. In this way, they further delight the reader whilst removing the seriousness of the book, allowing it to be read as a harmless entertainment or a subversion of the idea of parental omniscience.
There is also a touch of the cautionary tale in Wolves in the Walls. Cautionary tales often work by repetition about the terrible fate that awaits the disobedient child, an often overstated accident or lingering death, they are not strictly didactic in terms of exhorting the reader towards a Christian life but they do center around the child not taking heed of warnings. Although not strictly fantasy, they do draw from the nonsense tradition of Edward Lear to highlight a sensible point in a humorous fashion that is accessible to children but safe for adults.
In Coraline, Gaiman and McKean revisited this restoration of the family theme with the abduction of Coraline's family by her other mother and so she has to visit the otherworld to rescue them, in the meanwhile liberating the three other spirits held in the marbles. These tales only begin when the central child is ignored by the parental figures. The father is swapped because he is ignoring the child to read his paper and Coraline is set a series of nonsensical tasks to keep her out of her parent's way while they work.
In Wolves in the Walls, Lucy continually warns her parents and brother of what is happening but she is silenced and ignored, leading to the tragedy which she alone can save them from. The central child is commonly pushed to the side of the family but, in contrast to most children's fantasy, Lucy and Coraline work to restore the family's fortunes and coherence in each book but do not warn them of the ensuing trouble. This novel is about the lack of communication between the various family members, a sub-theme of Coraline as well.
The reader knows that these stories are nonsense but cannot help empathizing with Lucy, Coraline or the unnamed narrator. With Lucy, the reader hears the hatching plots as the wolves prepare to come from their hiding places and we see the mayhem that they cause with their party and general naughtiness, but we know (as do the adults) that wolves cannot live in the walls. Pullman and Rowling have utilized alternate worlds to reflect upon our realities, Gaiman has gone back to the beginning of identifiable children's fantasy, in particular Lewis Carroll, to create a world which is recognizable to children. In Coraline, he took Alice in Wonderland and recreated it in his own image, mixing it with Narnia and H. P. Lovecraft, thus ensuring that it would be read as a modern work. Wolves in the Walls takes the nonsense aspect of Wonderland and develops it with talking puppets and the party that the wolves have. Whereas Carroll took general foibles of society and played with them, Gaiman looks at the closer home life and pulls out the slightly more ridiculous aspects. As in other children's fantasy novels, the parents are removed from the central role but neatly, this plot (and their previous children's novels) involves the child going on a hunt to resituate them in the house, to recreate the family status quo. The quest is not one where the child needs to recreate her own world but to ensure that the family is reconstituted. In many ways, we can see how the authors see their own families and the paternal role through the recent books which have been marketed towards the children's market. The father has moved closer to the family as the books have gone on.
In Coraline, Gaiman reflects upon his own childhood reading, especially Alice and Narnia. When Coraline goes through the door into the other house, she is taking the journey through the common device of the portal into the other world (a clear homage to C. S. Lewis' Narnia). In Coraline, this is the connecting door that during the day has a wall behind it. This is a common way of traveling between worlds because it is at once a natural object but it can clearly go both ways and allow for easy return. It also anchors the portal into the real world and makes it realistic for the reader. Once Coraline goes into the other house, Gaiman delivers a clear homage to Through the Looking-Glass via its use of the game motif (in Through the Looking-Glass, Alice is caught in a giant game of chess, whereas Coraline becomes involved in a game of hide and seek) and the conceit of mirrors. Coraline's parents are literally trapped in the mirrors and so she has to go behind the mirrors, through the portal to a world which mirrors the real world but is subtly different. The other parents are happy to give her anything that she desires but she cannot explore very far, as she discovers when she goes into the garden and finds herself caught in the mist because, as the cat mentions, the parents have not got around to creating it yet. As Alice grows up when she moves through the portals, so does Coraline. Pushing against these boundaries, Coraline comes into contact with three spirits who call for her help. During the ensuing hunt, Coraline is offered anything that she wants but she declines saying that she doesn't want everything as this would get boring. It is at this point that Gaiman takes issue with his influences in late 19th-century and C. S. Lewis. Whereas Carroll and Lewis have a moralizing tone to their writing, Coraline has no moral tone. She grows and has moments of wisdom but she comes through at the conclusion as still being the same child that she was. What also comes through is that the cult of the childhood has changed subtly in to the cult of the family. The emphasis is not on the child or the child fixation but on the family and restoring the family.
Gaiman shows that he can ably utilize form and mode to an extent rarely seen. Wolves in the Walls is a short book, coming in at barely 2000 words, but it should not be taken as slight. The prose is deliciously entertaining, creeping and crumpling along with the imagery whereas Coraline 's flat prose masks the danger that the title character is heading towards. The tales are aware of their forebears but manage to develop their own voices and styles while exploring the conventions of structures and themes.
Wolves in the Walls and Coraline are clever exceptions to the majority of children's fantasy in that they deal with the basics, rather than dealing with the immense issues of His Dark Materials or the social absurdities in Alice in Wonderland. In the current rash of children's writing, Gaiman and McKean have successfully resurrected the nonsense form and recreated it for a modern audience. They have taken what had seemed to be a forgotten part of the children's literary heritage and remade it in their own image, capable of carrying a modern story with its own considerable weight. In the vibrant world of children's fiction, Neil Gaiman has clearly shown that there is still room for experimentation and different ways of telling a story. He has effectively remade his own guidelines for telling a story rather than following any genre rules.
Bruce Allen (essay date 2004)
SOURCE: Allen, Bruce. "The Dreaming of Neil Gaiman." In Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 195, edited by Jeffrey Hunter, pp. 226-33. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale, 2004.
[In the following essay, which originally appeared in Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 195, Allen provides a comprehensive overview of Gaiman's career, offering a critical summary of Gaiman's novels, short stories, and comic books.]
THE DREAMING OF NEIL GAIMAN
In a feat of literary legerdemain and metamorphosis that many of his characters and creations might envy, an unassuming Englishman who began his career as a freelance writer edging into the comic book industry has become one of (his adopted country) America's best-loved storytellers.
From a path-breaking graphic novel series through television and film scripts, continuing distinguished work in the comics field, charmingly offbeat children's stories, and—by virtually universal agreement—the finest adult fantasy fiction currently being written, Neil Gaiman has risen steadily to the summit of his profession.
A frequent honored guest at comic book and fantasy conventions (where he's known for his endless patience with autograph-seeking fans), Gaiman also remains prominently in the public eye via a state-of-the-art website (www.neilgaiman.com) that enables him to "chat" with countless adoring readers. He has socialized with celebrities like rock star Tori Amos (with whom Gaiman has in fact toured), and has collected such prestigious admirers as Norman Mailer—who has memorably proclaimed Gaiman's multivolume graphic novel The Sandman "a comic strip for intellectuals," adding "and I say it's about time."
Gaiman has received numerous accolades, ranging from his designation as Most Collectible Author of 1992 to several Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards (including the only one yet given to a single issue of a comic book), and the unprecedented sweep accom-plished by his 2001 fantasy novel American Gods, which won all four of its genre's most coveted prizes: the Hugo, Nebula, Stoker, and World Fantasy Awards.
His books have been translated into many languages, and the illustrated fiction on which he has collaborated with several of the finest contemporary graphic artists is generally credited with having crucially boosted the current boom in adult comics, thanks previously to works like Alan Moore's popular Swamp Thing (an influence graciously acknowledged by Gaiman) and Art Spiegelman's innovative Holocaust tale Maus.
Recent Gaiman projects include an English-language adaptation of the beloved Japanese animated film Princess Mononoke, an agreeably scary children's story The Wolves in the Walls, that has grown-ups sneaking into bookstore children's sections to browse it greedily (I have been one such retrograde adult), and a 2003 continuation of The Sandman, presenting seven lavishly illustrated new stories.
Two of Gaiman's stories, "Snow, Glass, Apples" and "Murder Mysteries" have been adapted for radio performance and are available on audiocassette. His illustrated fantasy tale 1602 has recently been published by Marvel Comics. And this year will bring a feature film scripted by Gaiman, Mirror Mask, produced by Jim Henson Studios and directed by its author's longtime illustrator Dave McKean.
And the beat goes on. Shock radio personality Howard Stern's claim to the title "King of All Media" notwithstanding, there's constantly increasing evidence that Gaiman's seemingly tireless creative energy and versatility, and his high visibility, have placed him somewhere very near the epicenter of contemporary popular culture.
Neil Gaiman was born in 1960 in Portchester, England. Though his family is Jewish, Neil was raised in a manner that seems to have been neither Orthodox nor orthodox, by supportive parents who were themselves accomplished professionals (his father a businessman, his mother a pharmacist).
In interviews, Gaiman routinely refers to himself as "the kid with a book," perpetually stealing moments to indulge his quickly discovered love of fantasy, adventure, and supernatural fiction. His mother strongly encouraged this passion for reading, which came to encompass not only landmark works like J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast and their many imitations, but also the work of genre writers less commonly detected by literary-critical radar—such as thriller writer Edgar Wallace, the polymathic G. K. Chesterton, Hope Mirrlees, Lord Dunsany, and the American fantasist whom Gaiman names his favorite such author, Virginia novelist James Branch Cabell.
The ambition to emulate his favorites and become a writer himself was thus implanted early in young Neil, and after graduating from public school, he decided against committing to higher formal education and began working as a freelance journalist. Commissions for miscellaneous articles and interviews, successfully carried out throughout the early 1980s, led him to place work in such top-of-the-line publications as Time Out, the Sunday London Times, The Observer, and Punch. A "quickie" book about rock music group Duran Duran followed, as did a collection of amusing hyperbolic excerpts from science fiction novels and movies, Ghastly beyond Belief (1985), which Gaiman co-edited with novelist Kim Newman.
His name becoming known, and his interests settling into their distinctive groove, Gaiman made contacts with influential people in the comic book industry, and began producing original scripts. Early works in this form included Violent Cases (1987), Outrageous: Tales of the Old Testament (1987), Black Orchid (1988-89), Signal to Noise (1989-90), Miracleman: The Golden Age (1992), Death: The High Cost of Living (1993), and The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch (1994).
Meanwhile, Gaiman had married (in 1985), edited a decidedly unconventional poetry anthology (pace Wordsworth) Now We Are Sick (1987), authored the informal critical study The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion (1988), and—in 1992—moved with his wife and two young children to the U.S., settling in Minnesota (a third child, his daughter Maddy, has since been born, in America).
During the 1990s, Gaiman spearheaded Comic Relief, a movement that developed into the Comic Legal Defense Fund, offering support to comics artists and writers who have been victims of censorship. He has remained an active participant in its activities, despite a workload that has increased exponentially as Gaiman has kept branching out into new venues and forms of expression.
In 1990 he collaborated with the wildly popular British fantasist Terry Pratchett (author of the megabestselling Discworld Novels) on Good Omens, a comic novel about the end of the world as observed and experienced by miscellaneous divinities, demons, and humans, replete with satanic nuns, fallen angels, a deity who has gotten really tired of humanity, and a riptide of millennial gags undoubtedly inspired by the aforementioned Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the late Douglas Adams's 1979 cult favorite.
Good Omens is a very funny (if more than slightly overstuffed, and minimally self-indulgent) romp, whose quality may best be suggested by this tribute from Gaiman's peer (and fellow American emigrant), horror novelist Clive Barker: "The apocalypse has never been funnier."
In 1996, Gaiman wrote an original script for BBC Television: a tale of fantastic adventure set in a mythical "London Below" the real city, which story would soon be reshaped into his first adult novel written alone. A year later, he conquered yet another field with his first fiction for young adults, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish. This agreeably whimsical story became a bestseller, and was chosen one of the Best Children's Books of 1997 and cited as Recommended Reading by Scholastic Magazine.
But by this time, Gaiman's name had already become widely known via the medium that was his first love and to which he would continue to return.
The first installment of The Sandman, a comic book that appropriated and altered a character from a 1970s comic (created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby) appeared in 1988. Its eponymous protagonist, formerly an avenging superhero who used "sleeping gas" to subdue criminals, was reimagined by Gaiman into a reclusive nonhuman reminiscent of the legendary figures of the Wandering Jew and Flying Dutchman.
Sandman, also known as Dream (and Morpheus, Lord of Dreams, among other cognomens and titles), is one of seven immortal siblings, all personifications of elemental entities that inhabit and shape human consciousness. His counterparts-and a strangely dysfunctional, perpetually conflicted "family" they are indeed—are Destiny, Desire, Delirium, Despair, Destruction, and Death.
The Sandman, who presides over a realm known as The Dreaming and who in effect orchestrates the dreams—and hence the imaginations—of all living beings, is, as envisioned by graphic artist Dave McKean (who drew all the individual issues' cover images), a brooding Byronic presence whose dark good looks and preference for black clothing have struck multiple responsive chords in readers. For one thing, this "Dream" rather resembles the striking-looking Neil Gaiman himself. For another, his likeness is credited with being one of the major inspirations for the Goth Movement of the 1990s.
Dream is a somewhat morose character, detached from any real communion or empathy with his peers or with humans (no matter how much he interacts with others). And the thrust of the entire Sandman series is the arduous process through which he comes to terms with his mission, his fallibility, and his future.
The original Sandman (for there have been successors) consists of seventy-five monthly issues (plus a 1991 "extra" installment, The Sandman Special ), which ran from 1988 to 1996 and are collected in ten more-or-less sequential paperback anthologies. Gaiman had been granted considerable freedom to develop the concept of The Sandman in whatever way struck his imagination. The hugely exfoliating storyline he created immediately attracted some of the fantasy genre's most renowned graphic artists, and soon drew critical praise (expressed in "Introductions" written for the paperback volumes) from such genre luminaries as Stephen King, Peter Straub, Harlan Ellison, and Samuel R. Delany.
Sandman was likewise a huge commercial success, and still sells more than a million copies annually. It won multiple Eisner Awards for both text and artwork, and has since been optioned by Warner Brothers for a major motion picture (because, as Gaiman has slyly commented, "nothing is ever soon to be a minor motion picture").
Each of the ten paperback Sandman volumes groups individual issues thematically rather than in consistent chronological order. In Preludes and Nocturnes (issues #1-8), a moribund British antiquarian, Roderick Burgess, while attempting to capture Death (and thus live forever), instead seizes Death's brother Dream, who is imprisoned for seventy-two years and stripped of his otherworldly powers by the theft of his magical "tools": a pouch, helmet, and ruby. Dream's absence from his usual duties produces a worldwide epidemic of sleeping sickness (rendered in stunning visual images). When Dream finally escapes, the quest to recover his tools takes him to Hell itself, thence the home of John Dee, the son of Burgess's mistress Ethel Cripps, and a fugitive from the Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane (in a grimly humorous nod to the creator of fictional Arkham, Massachusetts: H. P. Lovecraft).
These lively melodramatics are followed by Dream's encounter (in "The Sound of Her Wings" ) with his sister Death, a forthright street punk who basically tells her sibling to stop feeling sorry for himself and tend to his business as lord of The Dreaming.
Subsequent issues alternate between concentrating on Dream's progress (or lack of it) in shouldering his burdens and separate stories both intimately and only tangentially related to it. In The Doll's House (issues #9-16), for example, the escape of several rebellious Dreams from the Sandman's realm lead him to fear that his world is falling apart—and introduces the characters of self-sacrificing Rose Walker; British author G. K. Chesterton; 14th-century commoner Hob Gadling, who bargains successfully with Dream and is rewarded with immortality; and the sinister Corinthian, who appears to be Dream's murderous alter ego.
This volume's stories include a faux African folktale ("Tales in the Sand" ) that describes Dream's love affair with black queen Nada, and a mordantly amusing account of a serial killers' convention.
Dream Country (issues #17-20), which incidentally reveals the gradual erosion of Dream's abstracted indifference to the world around him, ranges farther afield, to depict the Muse Calliope captured and sexually exploited by a blocked writer, a gorgeously detailed alternate reality in which felines hold dominion over humans ("A Dream of a Thousand Cats" ), and—in one of the series's most gratifying high points—a marvelous fantastical retelling of Shakespeare's matchless comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream.
In Gaiman's inspired version, a summary of the play's action is surrounded and enriched by the story of its first production (and the involvement therein of its author's twin children Hamnet and Judith) and an explanation of how it came to be written: out of a Faustian pact with Dream, whereby the struggling playwright came into his full artistic maturity.
It was "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (issue #19) that received the World Fantasy Award as its year's Best Short Story—the only comic book issue ever to be so honored. Season of Mists (issues #21-28) depicts the consequences of Lucifer's decision to abandon Hell (which perhaps echoes God's annoyance with His creation in Good Omens ) and give the key to its gates to Dream, who is thereupon importuned by numerous beings eager to seize control of the infernal regions. Deities from various theologies and mythologies keep popping up (thus prefiguring Gaiman's later novel American Gods ), as do the trouble-making demon Azazel and the Norse god of mischief Loki (who is in many ways Dream's exact temperamental opposite).
This entertaining volume, whose resonant title is derived from Keats's great "Ode to Autumn," is notable also for its very interesting characterization of a sensitive and ethically complex Lucifer, and as a further development of growing rifts among the increasingly distracted Dream and his squabbling Endless siblings.
In A Game of You (issues #32-37), a previously encountered character named Barbie (and obviously inspired by the popular doll of the 1950s) becomes a princess reigning over a "dreamworld" imperiled by The Cuckoo, a destroyer bent on holding sway over a world purged of living beings. Dream is essentially an offstage presence in this somewhat surprising sequence, which contains teasing echoes of The Wizard of Oz (with Barbie as Dorothy, and her valiant dog Martin Tenbones as Toto), and strongly suggests the dangers of living within one's imagination—perhaps another warning signal to the Sandman.
Fables and Reflections, a ragbag volume that contains issues #29-31, 38-40, 50, the aforementioned Sandman Special, and a new story entitled "Fear of Falling," offers several crucial stories. These include Emperor Augustus Caesar's disclosure of the real reasons why Rome fell; the adventures of the (historical) self-proclaimed "Emperor of America," late 19th-century San Francisco eccentric Joshua Norton (who was befriended by a much amused Mark Twain); and envisionings of Baghdad then and now, ranging from the fabulous caliphate of Haroun AlRaschid (immortalized in The Arabian Nights) to its contemporary wartime state.
And, in a return to Dream's own preoccupations, "The Song of Orpheus" retells the familiar myth, adding the complication that Dream—who is revealed to be Orpheus's father—declines to restore the latter's beloved Eurydice to life.
Brief Lives (issues #41-49), whose title denotes its emphases, involves Dream—at his sister Delirium's request—in a search for his missing brother Destruction, who has grown weary of humanity's misappropriation of his gift, and become estranged from The Endless. This almost unrelentingly grim sequence (relieved intermittently by such charming spectacles as that of Babylonian goddess Ishtar moonlighting as an exotic dancer) focuses further on Dream's em-battled condition, when he is obliged—like the biblical patriarch Abraham—to take the life of his own son. Fewer specifics should be revealed about the succeeding volumes. World's End (issues #51-56) indeed anticipates the promise of its title, as travelers stranded during a "reality storm" exchange stories, in the manner made famous by Boccaccio and Chaucer. The choicest tales are a flavorful sea story ("Hob's Leviathan" ) reminiscent of Stevenson and Melville, and an ingenious Horatio Alger-like story of a teenager ("The Golden Boy" ) who miraculously becomes President of the United States.
The Kindly Ones (issues #57-69) brings The Dreaming under siege, by the classical Furies to whom its title alludes, and by the malicious mischief-making of Loki and Puck. The Sandman's "sin" is a careless remark, made much earlier in the series, that initiated a chain of devastating consequences, taking the form of wrongs that can only be righted—as gathering events make clear—by a purifying sacrificial act.
Volume ten The Wake (issues #70-75) is very much a tying up of loose ends, in which a haunting Chinese tale memorably dramatizes the complex relationships of fathers to sons, Dream converses once more with the undying Hob Gadling, and the full truth of Will Shakespeare's bargain is revealed, with the second and last of his plays devoted to dreams and their consequences: The Tempest. Suffice it to say that The Wake literally is a wake, that celebrates as it mourns the nature of Dream (and dreaming), his gift to the world over which he broods with such sorrowful contemplation, and his destiny.
More than two thousand pages long, crammed with arresting and strangely beautiful images, featuring both an absorbing central narrative and a bountiful array of old and new stories, The Sandman revolutionized the graphic novel form, in effect creating an entirely new readership for comic books, and spreading Neil Gaiman's name throughout the land. And it was only the beginning.
Gaiman returned to the Sandman conception in 1999 with The Dream Hunters, a gorgeously illustrated short novel about a fox who befriends, then comes to love a gentle monk—and travels to the land of dreams in order to save her beloved from a malevolent landowner. Like the earlier Sandman episode "A Dream of a Thousand Cats," it's a wonderful modern version of the traditional beast fable: "an old Japanese fable," Gaiman has since said of this limpid work, "[that] I completely made up."
A new Sandman collection, Endless Nights, appeared in 2003. It contains seven stories, each related to or featuring one of The Endless. One of its best is "Death and Venice," in which a pleasure-loving nobleman's plot to cheat time (and thus death as well) is juxtaposed with an introverted soldier's life-long emotional momentum toward the nameless woman he met in his youth: Death herself. Another is a dark and intriguing miscellany entitled "Fifteen Portraits of Despair" (which includes two ironically apposite observations: "It is a writer, with nothing left that he knows how to say" and "It is an artist, and fingers that will never catch the vision"). Even better is "On the Peninsula," an ingeniously unsettling tale of archaeologists who explore a presumably post-nuclear future.
Gaiman's expertly "caught" vision has extended itself still further, in The Sandman: Book of Dreams (1996), a collection of stories written and illustrated by admirers of the original series; and in The Sandman Presents: The Furies (2003), written by Mike Carey and illustrated by John Bolton, which is a sequel to the series' penultimate volume, The Kindly Ones.
Additional to this evidence that Dream will not really die are Gaiman's several affirmative responses whenever he's asked by interviewers whether he will return again to this material. Endless Nights is, in all likelihood, not the end of this story.
Meanwhile, this protean author's mastery of adult fiction was evidenced by Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions (1998), an expanded version of Gaiman's 1993 gathering of shorter work, Angels and Visitations.
This is a richly varied collection of thirty short stories and narrative poems, many of which transform classic figures from well-known myths, legends, and folktales into their darker (and, in some cases, funnier equivalents). "Nicholas Was," for example, introduces a disturbingly unconventional Santa Claus. "Don't Ask Jack" (which may have been inspired by Walter de la Mare's great story "The Riddle") features an evil Jack-in-the-box. And the poem "Bay Wolf" updates the grim Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf by shifting it into the giggly suntanned world of television's cluelessly inane Baywatch.
Gaiman rewrites the story of Snow White from the viewpoint of the jealous Queen ("Snow, Glass, Apples" ), retells a folktale of magical revenge ("The Daughter of Owls" ) in the style of seventeenth-century British antiquarian John Aubrey, and appropriates H. P. Lovecraft's dank haunted New England landscape of Innsmouth in "Only the End of the World Again" and "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar" (in the latter story, an American student traveling through England learns through unfortunate chance meetings that "there were things that lurked beneath gray raincoats that man was not meant to know").
These "messages from Looking-Glass Land and pictures in shifting clouds" (so identified in Gaiman's "Introduction" to them) pay other homages—to fantasy writer Michael Moorcock and his contemporaries in a ruminative memoir of Gaiman's early reading ("One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock" ) and to those masters of narrative concision John Collier and Ray Bradbury in "We Can Get Them for You Wholesale," the story of a jealous lover who patronizes an assassination service and discovers the pleasures of megalomania and mass murder. There are also more strictly contemporary stories, including "Looking for the Girl," set in "the London club scene in the early seventies," and "Tastings," which portrays a female succubus, or lamia, in a hair-raisingly graphic manner.
But these pale in comparison with the collection's finest story "Chivalry" (which Gaiman has singled out as a favorite piece for public readings). Told in the most restrained plain style imaginable, this is a perfect little fantasy, whose widowed protagonist Mrs. Whitaker happens one day to purchase the Holy Grail in a second-hand shop. Having brought it home, she is visited by the Arthurian knight Galahad, who has long sought it. Mrs. Whitaker's "temptation" by the handsome adventurer, and the sensible decision she makes, are quite movingly conveyed, in a tale that effortlessly blends the world of her own dowdy routine with the realm of chivalric romance. It's a great story, not nearly well enough known: the centerpiece of a remarkable collection that proved Neil Gaiman's continuing success with every task and challenge he had set himself.
In 1998 Gaiman published the novel Neverwhere, an expansion of the script written earlier for television performance. It's the story of Richard Mayhew, a young man from a provincial town who moves to London, makes his fortune (in a manner of speaking), and acquires a beauteous fiancée named Jessica.
Richard's life changes abruptly when he encounters a witch-like old woman who solemnly announces that he will soon undergo a remarkable experience that "starts with doors." Sure enough, Richard meets a frail, comely girl who calls herself Door, and aids her in her flight from a pair of grotesque assassins for hire, Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar (whose communal demeanor may be indicated by the way they answer their telephone, thus: "Croup and Vandemar,… Eyes gouged, noses twisted, tongues pierced, chins cleft, throats slit"). These distinctly uncharming partners were, Door surmises, undoubtedly implicated in the murder of her family, which she and Richard thereupon set out to solve.
Richard follows Door to "London Below," a city beneath the "real" London ("where the people who fall through the cracks go"). Here he wanders through a tumultuous Floating Market, meeting various angelic and demonic persons and personifications, and proving his mettle by doing battle with the fearsome Great Beast of London. The novel ends with Richard restored to the life for which he is best suited, and the two Londons continue to exist in a richly suggestively symbolic mutual relationship.
Neverwhere is Gaiman's best novel so far. Its likable hero (whose surname evokes the historical Henry Mayhew, author of the classic nineteenth-century sociological study London Labour and the London Poor) is a vivid contemporary equivalent of the archetypal innocent youth who grows by fits and starts into his hero-hood; Croup and Vandemar make a splendid psychopathic vaudeville time (they resemble nothing so much as a bloodthirsty Laurel and Hardy); and the eerily detailed landscape of London below is etched with bravura nightmarish precision: it's a setting that might have been invented by a Kafka-influenced Dickens.
Its successor Stardust (1999) is made of somewhat gentler stuff, though the spell it casts is scarcely less seductive. This beguiling adult fairy tale begins in rural England in the 1830s, in the town of Wall, named thus for the "high grey rock wall" between it and an otherworldly "meadow" in which not-quite-human figures are frequently glimpsed. The inhabitants of this meadow ("Faerie") are quite willing to mingle occasionally with mortals. And, on one such occasion, during Wall's annual April fair, young Dunstan Thorn falls in love with a maiden from the meadow and conceives a child with her.
The latter, who grows up in Wall, becomes Tristran Thorn. And, like his father Dunstan before him, young Tristran becomes enamored of a bewitching girl, Victoria Forester—who, in a playful moment, agrees to accept Tristran's love if he retrieves for her the streaking star they had together observed falling to earth; or, more precisely, beyond the rock wall, within the boundaries of Faerie.
The bulk of the novel recounts Tristran's amazing adventures, as he learns he is not the star's only pursuer. The murderous sons of the villainous Lord of Stormhold (accompanied by the dead brothers whom they the living have murdered) are his chief rivals, but they're only part of a phantasmagoric parade that includes assorted trolls and spell-mumbling hags, a farm boy transformed into a goat, and a wood nymph turned into a tree, among others. Tristran finds the star (which turns out to be, rather than an astral body, a person—and not a particularly agreeable one), but not before exploits aboard a passing "sky ship," his own metamorphosis (into a dormouse), and a bittersweet return to Wall, upon which he learns—as did Richard Mayhew in Neverwhere —that his destiny is neither as commonplace nor as earthbound as he had been brought up to believe.
The protagonists of Neverwhere and Stardust, heroes though they may be, are fairly simply drawn characters compared with "Shadow" Moon, the central figure of Gaiman's multiple-prizewinning next novel American Gods (2001).
A bit of hint as to who Shadow really is is dropped when we learn that he is thirty-two, has served three years of a prison term for "aggravated assault and battery," and has just been freed, after learning that his wife Laura has died in an automobile accident. Shadow travels by plane to Indiana for Laura's funeral, and the story's real complications begin.
En route, Shadow meets a loquacious "businessman" of uncertain identity ("Call me Wednesday," he affably declares), and impulsively accepts an equally undefined job as the latter's chauffeur and "handyman."
Shadow's subsequent waking and dreaming moments are populated by bizarre otherworldly figures. A human with the head of a buffalo offers him sonorous cryptic advice. Laura's ghost visits him, taking unusual corporeal form.
At this point the narrative begins expanding to include several interpolated stories. An 18th-century Irish girl, Essie Tregowan, is "transported" to America. Salim, a Middle Eastern immigrant, becomes the lover of a mischievous spirit (an ifrit) working as a Manhattan cabdriver. Boy and girl twins sold by their wicked uncle are brought to America on a slave ship: the boy grows up to participate in a bloody slave rebellion; the girl becomes a healer, and the forerunner of "voudon" queen Marie Laveau.
Meanwhile, Shadow and Wednesday travel throughout middle America, establishing a kind of base in Lakeside, Wisconsin, making preparations for a "meeting" Wednesday is arranging. The schemes related to it are described by one suspicious colleague as follows: "he wants a last stand. He wants to go out in a blaze of glory."
Shadow is repeatedly warned that a storm is approaching. Reality seems to be losing its bearings: as Shadow watches television in a motel room, Rob Petrie physically abuses his Laura; and Lucy Ricardo speaks from the screen directly to Shadow.
Even more sinister omens pile onto one another. In Chicago, a ruffian named Czernobog wins a game of checkers, and reserves the right to beat Shadow's brains out on an unspecified later occasion. Wednesday has some strange business with mortician Mr. Ibis and his associate Mr. Jacquel. A murderous old man named Hinzelmann poses yet another threat to the increasingly bewildered Shadow.
The reader gradually understands that the "old gods" worshipped around the world have followed the emigrants who believe in them to America—where they are confronted by the "new gods" of consumerism and mass communication (Media, for example—who is at one point mistaken for the classical antiheroine "who killed her children")—and that Wednesday (who is the Norse god Wotan, not all that carefully disguised) has, with Shadow's aid, summoned them to a climactic, perhaps apocalyptic gathering.
Shadow's function in this götterdämmerung is made clear by the novel's climactic events. When the slain Wednesday is buried (beneath an ancient "world tree"), Shadow keeps the required vigil over his grave, tied to the tree, denied food and water, until Mr. Ibis conducts him on a subsequent journey that involves a flight by "thunderbird" (and no, Virginia, it's not an automobile), the payment of what he owes to the patient Czernobog, a Dantean task accomplished on a "frozen lake," and a terrific surprise contained in an ironic concluding "Postscript."
American Gods is, arguably, a bit too playful and hectic for its own good. But much of the very considerable pleasure this rich novel offers consists in recognizing the theological and mythological sources of its boldly drawn characters. Most readers who are attuned to Gaiman's encyclopedic imagination will note that the ibis and the jackal are key figures in Egyptian myth, that Shadow's light-fingered former cellmate "Low Key" Lyesmith has his own divine counterpart—perhaps even that the blowsy good-time gal "Easter" somewhat resembles pagan goddess of spring Eostre, the spry little black man Mr. Nancy has many of the qualities of the West African trickster-creator Anansi, and that the buffalo-headed sage of Shadow's dreams has many antecedents in Native American folklore.
The novel's key incidents and incidental details are similarly freighted with symbolic suggestiveness. Shadow's hobby of "coin manipulation," at which he's particularly adept, marks him as one potentially capable of magic. His "combat" with Czernobog closely echoes the medieval tale of Arthurian knight Sir Gawain's fateful encounter with the mysteriously powerful Green Knight. His ordeal on that frozen lake emphatically implies a journey to the infernal regions and back. And when Wednesday rises from the dead to inform Shadow that "there's power in the sacrifice of a son," we understand that America's gods, native and newly arrived, are not the only ones involved in the drama of Shadow's passage from sin and error to purification through suffering.
This big novel received numerous mainstream reviews (unusual for a book by an author associated with the fantasy genre) and effectively confirmed Gaiman's reputation as a "serious" writer. When he followed it with Coraline (2002), a scary young adult novel about a preadolescent girl who discovers an alternate reality within her family's house, even more rapturous reviews greeted the book. Coraline (a story that adult readers should not overlook) won the Hugo, Bram Stoker, and British Science Fiction Association Awards, and is already spoken of as a contemporary classic.
Gaiman's seemingly indefatigable energies have produced, within the last four years, several more graphic novels: a shivery tale of lycanthropy (Only the End of the World Again [an illustrated version of Gaiman's short story] 2000); a chilling love story based on commedia dell' arte characters and motifs (Harlequin Valentine, 2001); a weird tale of a sinister "rock legend" (The Last Temptation, 2001); and the story behind the story of the angel Lucifer's fall from heaven (Murder Mysteries, 2003), expanded from a story that had appeared in Smoke and Mirrors.
The aforementioned feature film Mirror Mask will be along later this year. Other Gaiman works optioned for film include Death: The High Cost of Living, Neverwhere, and Stardust. Gaiman websites advise that a sequel to American Gods is in the works.
In a 1999 interview with the internet journal Writers Write, Gaiman said "As far as I'm concerned, the entire reason for becoming a writer is not having to get up in the morning." Perhaps. But when a storyteller so generous and gifted dreams to such stunning effect, one wants only to say: Sleep well. Dream well. Then get up, as late as you please, and write down for us all that you have dreamed.
THE DAY I SWAPPED MY DAD FOR TWO GOLDFISH (1997)
Margo MacDonald (review date 1997)
SOURCE: MacDonald, Margo. Review of The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean. SF Site (online magazine) http://sfsite.com/08b/fish15.htm (1997).
"A children's book by Neil Gaiman?" you may be asking yourself skeptically. But yes, it's true, [The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish ] is actually a book meant to be enjoyed by children. And I think they will enjoy it, even though at heart the story is simply another retelling of the old tale of an object that gets swapped from person to person, until the original owner needs it back—and then has to swap possessions back again, step by step, to retrieve it. Gaiman's knack for storytelling wins you over right away and leaves you smiling at the end.
But what makes this book truly charming is the combination of Gaiman's wit and the remarkable artwork by McKean. Each page is lavishly illustrated with simple ink drawings washed over and filled in with vibrant colours (except for the goldfish, of course, which are real—well okay, photographs of real fish incorporated into the illustrated world). McKean manages to convey character and mood very simply, though the overall effect feels very detailed. For me, the whole thing was worth it just for the drawing of Galveston, the rabbit—but you'd really have to see it to understand. I think some little ones might be overwhelmed at first by the style of illustration, but they certainly won't get bored quickly and neither would any adults who happened to be reading it, you know, just to see if their niece/nephew might like it.
Robert Wiersema (review date 1997)
SOURCE: Wiersema, Robert. Review of The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean. Green Man Review (online magazine) http://www.greenmanreview.com/book/book_gaiman_twogoldfish.html (1997).
[In the following review, Wiersema lauds Gaiman for embracing "his inner juvenile surrealist" in The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish.]
Anyone who has spent any time with a child, or with a children's book, will realize that a child's sense of humour, and of reality, tends toward the gloriously demented. In the open, amorphous, formative state of the early years, when language and meaning are fluid, the artificial boundaries which we as adults find ourselves so hemmed in by are utterly absent. How else to explain a child's love for the works of Dr. Seuss, or for Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth? Every child is a gleeful surrealist, at least until the world beats it out of them, through the process commonly (and with a dangerous banality) referred to as "growing up."
Some adults, however, don't seem to have taken the bruising quite as badly as most. The lessons don't seem to have quite stuck. Their imaginations skip freely from point to point, deftly defying arbitrary restrictions and boundaries, keeping their vision of their art foremost in their mind, and paying little heed to those who would try to rein them in. Think of Klimt, or Picasso. Miles Davis, or John Coltrane.
Think of Neil Gaiman.
The transplanted English fantasy writer (see how reflexive it is to categorize, without even considering it), based in the United States for over a decade, has made a career of leaping through the imagination and across genres and forms as varied as straightforward novels and short stories, radio plays, screenplays and graphic novels. No matter the genre, what always comes to the fore is Gaiman's sweeping vision, and his great sense of, and love for, story in its purest, least adulterated form. While most of his adult writing folds in on itself to both reference and include varying mythologies, religions, folk tales and motifs, and figures that could only be drawn from dreams, his first foray into writing for children is more down to earth: a sunny afternoon, playing in the yard. A boy and his sister. A friend and his goldfish. A father who "doesn't pay much attention to anything, when he's reading his newspaper."
Of course, as any child will tell you, from these such innocent things do great adventures come.
With The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, Gaiman fully embraces his inner juvenile surrealist. While the cover promises the books "will delight anyone who is—or has ever been—a kid," Gaiman goes further than delight. Reading this book, an adult will be plunged back into a child-like frame of mind, a reality, once coloured in Seuss-ian bolds, now vivid and starkly rendered by Gaiman's long-time friend and frequent illustrator Dave McKean in line drawings, collages and bold washes.
When his friend Nathan brings two goldfish to our narrator's house, he MUST have them. He tries to trade away baseball cards, an old robot, a punching bag and a penny-whistle, but to his horror, "Every time I showed him something, Nathan said 'No.'" Every time, that is, until he offers Nathan his father in exchange. "He's bigger than your goldfish," he argues, adding that he can swim "better than a goldfish." His sister refutes this claim with a terse "Liar," but it's too late. The deal made, Nathan takes home the narrator's father, and all seems fine until his mother comes home, and, after ungagging the sister and finding out the truth, demands the trade be undone. Unfortunately, Nathan has already traded away the father for an electric guitar, and our narrator, accompanied by his little sister, undertakes an epic voyage of wheeling and dealing to return his father safely home.
While McKean's visuals are tremendous (the vision of the father in a rabbit hutch is unforgettable, and the textured collages which form the backgrounds to many of the illustrations are key narrative and thematic elements themselves), the story belongs to Gaiman. With the wry worldliness of Tom Sawyer, the sly surrealism of Dr. Seuss and the rhythmic narrative quality and matter-of-factness of P. D. Eastman's Are You My Mother?, Neil Gaiman's The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish is simply a treat, a journey back to a simpler time in the hands of one of our most creative voices.
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Tim Pratt (review date 1 July 2002)
SOURCE: Pratt, Tim. "Of Explorers and Button Eyes: Neil Gaiman's Coraline." Strange Horizons (online magazine) http://strangehorizons.com/2002/20020701/coraline.shtml (1 July 2002).
[In the following review, Pratt discusses Gaiman's multifaceted career and declares Coraline to be Gaiman's "crowning accomplishment."]
The canon of my childhood favorites was set, not surprisingly, in my childhood, and includes Lewis Carroll's Alice books, Le Guin's Earthsea Trilogy, and too many others to list. And yet, recently, a new book made its way onto that list, and managed to inspire the same sense of adventure and wonder; to transport me, in all the good ways, back to childhood. That book is Coraline (which rhymes with "horrorwine," if you have Gaiman's British accent), the new YA by that increasingly impressive author-of-all-trades, Neil Gaiman. The phrase "instant classic" is an annoying oxymoron, but I'm tempted to use it for Gaiman's book anyway—I think it's one that children and grown-ups will be reading for a long time. The US edition features fabulous illustrations by Dave McKean; I had no idea the master of photo-collage could draw so well. When I have children of my own, I'll be waiting impatiently for them to be old enough to enjoy hearing me read Coraline to them aloud.
But before I get to the book in more detail, I'd like to say something about the author, and why Coraline is his crowning accomplishment. Neil Gaiman is the consummate storyteller currently working in the various fields of speculative fiction. In a world where niche marketing is increasingly prevalent, where authors sometimes have to resort to pseudonyms in order to even publish work in a different sub-genre from the one their fans are accustomed to, Gaiman defies categorization, and uses whatever approach seems appropriate for the story he wants to tell. During the course of his career, he has tried his hand at a variety of storytelling media—the comics that started his career (most notably Sandman, but also The Books of Magic and Violent Cases ); illustrated narratives like Stardust and The Dream Hunters ; powerful short stories like "Chivalry," "Troll Bridge," "Harlequin Valentine," and "Keepsakes & Treasures: A Love Story" ; poetry like "The White Road," "Eaten: Scenes from a Moving Picture," and "Vampire Sestina" ; the BBC mini-series Neverwhere and the novelization of the same name; his first true novel, the Hugo-nominated American Gods (which won a Stoker award, beating out odds-on favorite Black House by Stephen King & Peter Straub); and now a children's book, Coraline. Opinions differ regarding the relative quality of these works, of course, but I find all of them worthy of attention. In the breadth of his efforts and the depth of his accomplishment, Gaiman is slowly proving himself to be the storytelling virtuoso of our age, and Coraline may be his single most successful work to date.
Coraline is immensely important to Neil Gaiman. In his online journal, Gaiman talks about how much Coraline means to him, making it clear that the work is very close to his heart.
It's not difficult to see why. Sandman is the work that cemented Gaiman's fame, but its effect is a cumulative one—over the course of several years, Gaiman created an intricate, vast story composed of smaller stories. Coraline 's effect is far more compressed—the book can easily be read from beginning to end in a sitting—and all the more powerful for that. It's being marketed as a children's book, yes, but it's full of pleasures for adults, too.
So what's it about? Like most great children's books, it's about a smart, perceptive, quirky child dealing with deeply serious problems. The child in question is Coraline, who as the story begins has just moved into a new apartment with her mother and father. It's obvious that her parents love her, but they're too busy to give her the attention she would like. Her mother does her best to keep Coraline busy by setting her small tasks—like counting all the blue things in the flat—but Coraline is happiest when exploring on her own. (If her character could be summed up in a single word, it would be "explorer"—in the brave-and-intrepid sense, not the eaten-by-cannibals imperialist one.) In the course of her explorations, she finds a mysterious locked door in the drawing room. Her mother has the key, and shows Coraline what's behind the door—nothing but bricks. The door is an artifact from when the apartment house was a single dwelling, before it was split into flats, and there's an uninhabited apartment beyond the bricks.
Coraline explores the grounds and meets the other tenants. There's a "crazy old man" upstairs who tells Coraline that he's training his circus mice to play music, and Coraline finds him vaguely alarming, if only because she can't tell whether he's serious or joking. Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, two aging former actresses, live downstairs with a coterie of Scottie dogs. The ladies are happy to dispense tea, inedible cookies, and advice, and they read Coraline's tea leaves, which indicate that she's in danger. Coraline is the type to find the prospect of danger more interesting than alarming. They give her a stone with a hole in the middle for protection.
Inevitably, Coraline takes the key and returns to the door, and this time when she opens it, there are no bricks, just a dark corridor. Coraline takes this in stride (perhaps because she's recently watched a television program about protective coloration, and understands that things can pretend to be other things). She passes through the door—what explorer wouldn't?—and emerges in a flat that is the mirror image of her own.
There she meets one of the most disturbing creatures I've ever encountered in fiction, a thing that looks much like her mother, except for the too-white hands and the black buttons she has instead of eyes. She tells Coraline that she's her "other mother," and that Coraline may stay with her forever; the chief advantages of this arrangement seem to be delicious food (Coraline's own parents seldom cook anything to her liking) and a lack of disciplinary constraints. Coraline also meets her "other father," who has buttons for eyes as well. The other mother leads Coraline into the kitchen, telling her there's just one thing she has to do before they can be a family. She shows Coraline a needle and thread and two buttons, which she wants to sew over Coraline's eyes.
Coraline sensibly refuses this disturbingly surreal request and escapes out the front door, into a garden much like her own. There she meets a black cat, which can travel freely from the real world to this one—but here, in the other mother's world, it can talk. The cat is a marvelous character, as inscrutable and infuriating as Lewis Carroll's Cheshire cat, and even more arch. "We—we could be friends, you know," Coraline says to the cat, which replies, "We could be rare specimens of an exotic breed of African dancing elephants." Nevertheless, the cat stays with her, and even provides help, later on.
Coraline explores further, and finds strange analogues to her own world—a theater full of dogs downstairs, where younger versions of Miss Forcible and Miss Spinks perform an endless vaudeville-style variety show, and a distinctly lunatic old man upstairs, who has dozens of red-eyed rats living in his suit. This world doesn't extend much beyond the garden gates, however, and seems altogether an unfinished place.
Unnerved, Coraline returns through the corridor, home—and discovers that her parents are gone. She tries not to worry, making dinner for herself—Coraline is a whiz with the microwave—but her parents don't come back, and later, Coraline sees them trapped behind a mirror, obviously imprisoned by the other mother. Being a sensible child, Coraline calls the police, and explains the whole situation to them. They react as one would expect, suggesting that Coraline have some hot chocolate and get a hug.
At this point, the problem is clear; Coraline will have to go through the door and get her parents back, though the prospect of facing the other mother again terrifies her. (At this point, she tells the cat a story about something her father did once, and in so doing offers the most concise and moving explanation of what it means to be brave that I've ever read.)
Getting back her parents is not an easy task. The other mother proves ever more monstrous, from the visceral (eating black beetles) to the temperamental (she calls the cat "vermin") to the personal (she tells Coraline that her real parents don't love her anymore). Things take a turn for the even-worse when Coraline meets the ghosts of children the other mother has "loved" in the past, and realizes what her own fate will be if she doesn't defeat the creature.
Armed only with her own resourcefulness, the stone with a hole in the center, and the cat's unpredictable assistance, Coraline has to outwit and defeat the other mother, and in so doing rescue not only her parents and herself but the poor trapped ghosts—and protect herself and the rest of the world from the other mother's grasp forever after.
The story is full of twists and nightmare images, dark surprises and moments of stunning beauty, and through it all there is never a misstep, nor a moment when it seems that Gaiman is unsure of what he's doing or what happens next, despite the fact that it took him ten years to write the book, and that he did so piecemeal, averaging about 2,000 words a year. It is a masterly achievement, a delight for children and adults alike—and I strongly encourage reading it aloud to someone you love, young or old or in between. You'll both be the better for it.
(For fun beyond the text, the Coraline Web site [http://www.mousecircus.com] is quite entertaining, though it's Flash-intensive, so patience may be required; once it gets started, it's a very rewarding pointing-and-clicking experience.)
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Yvonne Zipp (review date 31 October 2002)
SOURCE: Zipp, Yvonne. "Perfect Mom Is a Nightmare." Christian Science Monitor (31 October 2002): 20.
[In the following review, Zipp compliments Gaiman's "beautifully spooky" prose in Coraline.]
If you open a door that's normally bricked up and a mysterious passage appears, slam that sucker shut and run.
"Don't go in there!" has been standard advice for every fairy tale and horror character since Bluebeard first got married.
Happily for readers, no self-respecting heroine since Bluebeard's wife has been able to withstand the lure of a locked door. Coraline, the bored young girl at the center of Neil Gaiman's beautifully spooky tale [Coraline ], proves no exception.
She and her distracted parents have just moved into a big old house that's been converted into apartments. Left to entertain herself while they busy themselves, she meets the quirky neighbors, all of whom get her name wrong—"It's Coraline, not Caroline."
She explores the grounds to find the well she's been ordered to stay away from, and she counts everything blue. But then she runs out of things to do.
One afternoon, while her mother is out, Coraline opens the bricked-up door in the drawing room, finds a secret passage, and walks inside. On the other side is an apartment that looks almost exactly like hers, and a woman who looks almost exactly like her mother—"only her fingers were too long, and they never stopped moving, and her dark red fingernails were curved and sharp." And she has large black buttons for eyes.
The woman tells Coraline that she's her "other mother." In her "other" house, Coraline gets to eat her favorite foods, dress in the kinds of clothes she loves, and play with toys far more fantastic than any in her real house. But when she goes back home through the passage, she finds that her real parents are gone and that her "other mother" has no intention of letting her new daughter escape her loving embrace.
Unlike many of the other adult writers trying their hand at a children's tale, Gaiman (American Gods, Neverwhere ) actually seems to understand the way children think. And his writing has the pared-down elegance of the best fairy tales. He begins with a quote from G. K. Chesterton: "Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."
While some reviewers have called Coraline a horror story, it falls squarely in the fairy-tale tradition. There are certainly scary moments here, but the energy is more ominous than terrifying, and the Brothers Grimm trafficked in more gore. The publisher claims it's for children 8 and up, but I'd feel uncomfortable buying it for anyone younger than 10 or 11.
Young adults will enjoy the book's creepy humor and its unsettling exploration of what we really want and need from the people who love us.
Kate McDowell (review date November 2002)
SOURCE: McDowell, Kate. Review of Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 56, no. 3 (November 2002): 106-07.
[In Coraline, ] Coraline and her parents have just moved into a big old house that has been divided into several apartments, and Coraline has been meeting a cast of oddball but friendly neighbors. One strange architectural feature of her new home is a door that opens only to reveal a brick wall. Coraline finds this door intriguing, especially the day she opens it and, instead of the wall, finds a passageway. On the other end she finds a home identical to her own, complete with two people who call themselves her "other parents"; the only physical difference between these people and her real parents is their eyes: "[Their] eyes were buttons, big and black and shiny." Thus begins a nightmare that doesn't stop until Coraline escapes and, in a gruesome conclusion, throws her "other mother's" evil disembodied hand into the pit of a dark well. The nearly candy-coated opening, in which Coraline blithely explores her new neighborhood, provides a perfect complement to the creepy, bug-and-rat infested world of Coraline's horrifying experience. Gaiman's pacing is superb, and he steers the tension of the tale with a deft and practiced narrative touch. McKean's black-and-white illustrations depict first sunny and then eerie scenes in an old-fashioned style with spidery and elongated lines. Although this is not for the faint of heart, readers who have long coveted a horror story that would play to their most vivid fears will find the unforgettable "other mother" to be the perfect terrifying villain.
Anita L. Burkam (review date November-December 2002)
SOURCE: Burkam, Anita L. Review of Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean. Horn Book Magazine 78, no. 6 (November-December 2002): 755-56.
[In Coraline, o]ut of sorts in her new home, Coraline finds a bricked-up door in the drawing room and, when her mother is out for the afternoon, discovers the bricks have gone and she can pass through to a very similar house with an "other mother" and an "other father." These two creepy specimens (with paper-white skin and black button eyes) want her to stay and be their little girl. Back in her own home, Coraline waits in vain for her parents to return, until at last she catches sight of a mirror image of them and determines she must head back into the alternate house to try to rescue them. What started out as a world set slightly askew turns nightmarish as Coraline joins the other mother in a game of hide-and-seek for her parents—winner take all. Images (white grub-like creatures in cobwebs; a toy box full of wind-up angels and tiny chatter-mouthed dinosaur skulls; the ubiquitous shiny black button eyes pictured in McKean's occasional dark and unsettling sketches as actual buttons) fly at the reader thick and fast, fully evoking the irrational yet unperturbing world of dreams, creating an avant-garde cinematic sweep of charged and often horrific flotsam from the subconscious. One wishes for a little more backstory to add depth and unity to the disparate images and a little more structure around the identity of the other mother (it turns out she resembles a kind of trap-door spider for souls, although exactly what she is or why she set up shop in Coraline's drawing room is left unstated). Still, the danger is convincingly dangerous, the heroine is convincingly brave, and the whirlwind denouement (helped along by a friendly cat and a rather clever ploy on the part of Coraline) will leave readers bemused but elated and slightly breathless.
Lowell Putnam (review date 2002)
SOURCE: Putnam, Lowell. Review of Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean. KidsReads.com (online magazine) http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/0380977788.asp (2002).
This summer, Harry Potter has finally left the #1 spot on kids' reading lists, and new heroes are emerging to whom young readers can really relate. One such exciting character is Coraline, the adventurous heroine of Neil Gaiman's book of the same name. This beautifully written, dark fairy tale finally acknowledges the underestimated and forgotten maturity of most young people; Gaiman isn't afraid to write a scary fantasy for children looking for more than just Disney-esque dragons and grounds-keeping giants.
Coraline (NOT "Caroline," as she will tell you adamantly) has just moved into a flat in an old house. Her upstairs and downstairs neighbors are kind and eccentric older people who can't get her name right, but encourage her curiosity and explorer's instincts. One rainy afternoon, wandering around bored out of her mind (as young explorers are wont to do on rainy afternoons), Coraline opens a locked door in her living room and finds her way into the mysterious "vacant" fourth flat in the house. Surprisingly, the apartment is far from empty, and Coraline comes face to face with two creatures who claim to be her "other" parents. In fact, there appears to be an entire magical "other" world through the door; there are amazing toys to play with and neighbors who never mess up her name.
Soon, however, Coraline realizes that this world is as deadly as it is enchanting. The "other mother" wants to keep Coraline there forever, and her intentions are hardly loving or parental. Coraline meets the ghosts of several other children who had been kidnapped hundreds of years ago, and she realizes that both her body and spirit are in danger. She has to use all her intelligence and exploratory prowess in order to defeat the horrible "other mother."
Coraline's story is truly frightening, and Gaiman goes to great lengths to forge an "other" world where every aspect of our lives is perverted and twisted into the macabre. Originally a comic-book writer, he uses lyrical comparisons that challenge the simple images of traditional children's books. Kids will enjoy the chills that run down their spines as they read this story and will be grateful that there is finally an author that refuses to patronize a young audience hungry for an absorbing horror tale.
Charles de Lint (review date February 2003)
SOURCE: de Lint, Charles. Review of Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean. Fantasy & Science Fiction 104, no. 2 (February 2003): 30-1.
[In the following review, de Lint offers a positive assessment of Coraline, calling the book Gaiman's "most successful" children's book to date.]
Is there anything Gaiman doesn't do well?
Coraline isn't his first foray into children's fiction, but it's certainly his most successful. In fact, it's astonishingly good—an instant classic, if you'll excuse the hyperbole—and one that I can imagine both children and adults reading a hundred years from now with the same enjoyment they do Lewis Carroll's Alice books.
Carroll is actually a good touchstone, since Coraline reminds me of nothing so much as a macabre Alice in Wonderland. The title character doesn't go through a mirror or fall down a rabbit hole, but she does go through a door that normally opens on a brick wall to find herself in a twisted version of her own world. There she meets her other parents, the ones with buttons for eyes who want only the very best for Caroline, which includes making her one of their own.
Our plucky heroine escapes, only to find that her real parents have now been kidnapped and taken into that other world. Calling the police doesn't help—they only suggest she's having a nightmare and that she should go wake her mother and have her make a cup of hot chocolate. So it's up to Coraline to rescue not only her real parents, but also the spirits of the dead children that were taken before the "other mother" set her sights on Coraline.
The book is illustrated throughout by Dave McKean's pen and ink drawings that are both charming and strange. The prose is simple and lovely, the subject matter both dark and whimsical (sometimes whimsically dark, other times darkly whimsical—you get the idea). In accompanying material Gaiman writes that it's a story "that children experienced as an adventure, but which gave adults nightmares," and while I didn't get nightmares (I'm too much of a child, I suppose) I can easily see how both hold true. I do know that images from the book pop into my head at surprising times with an accompanying little shiver and thrill, and that I plan to reread it very soon. Now that I know the story, I want to savor the wonderful prose.
Collectors might be interested in tracking down a signed (by the author) limited edition that Harper-Collins has also produced. It features a color frontispiece by the book's illustrator as well as almost twenty pages of extra material that includes some more black and white art as well as commentaries by Gaiman himself. At around twenty-five dollars, it's a good price for a collectible book.
Or you can buy the Peanut Press e-book version, which also includes the additional material, at around eleven dollars.
THE WOLVES IN THE WALLS (2003)
Publishers Weekly (review date 30 June 2003)
SOURCE: Review of The Wolves in the Walls, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean. Publishers Weekly 250, no. 26 (30 June 2003): 77.
"If the wolves come out of the walls, it's all over," is the oft-repeated prediction in Gaiman's latest [The Wolves in the Walls ], a picture book that cleverly balances humor and spookiness in a slightly off-kilter setting. As he did in his novel Coraline, the author again introduces an inquisitive girl who lives in a creepy old house with her distracted family. When Lucy hears "squeaking, creeping, crumpling noises" from inside the house's walls, she's convinced it must be wolves. Lucy's parents and younger brother, who don't share Lucy's sharply attuned ear, but have heard bad things about wolves in people's walls, insist any noise must be emanating from something more logical, like rats or mice. But when Lucy's hunch comes true, the family flees—until brave, determined Lucy hatches a plan to turn the tables. Gaiman's text rings with energetic confidence and an inviting tone, even as he leads readers into a bizarre and potentially spine-tingling scenario. McKean (who previously collaborated with Gaiman on the Sandman comics and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish ) expertly matches the tale's funny-scary mood. Lucy shines as a heroine, standing tall among somewhat tuned-out supporting characters that are an inventive mixture of ordinary and odd. Against shadow-filled backdrops that blend paint, digital manipulation and photography, his stylized human figures look right at home. His pen-and-inks of the wolves, often with a judicious dash of color, suggest that they inhabit a world apart—or perhaps unreal? Author and artist credit their audience with the intelligence to puzzle out the question for themselves. All ages.
Janice M. Del Negro (review date September 2003)
SOURCE: Del Negro, Janice M. Review of The Wolves in the Walls, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 57, no. 1 (September 2003): 14.
[In The Wolves in the Walls, y]oung Lucy hears noises in the walls ("They were sneaking, creeping, crumpling noises"), and although her mother, father, and brother tell her the noises are caused by mice, rats, and bats respectively, Lucy knows what it really is: "There are wolves in the walls." Of course, they don't believe her, and, of course (this being Gaiman, author of the eminently creepy Coraline, BCCB 11/02), Lucy is right. When the wolves come out of the walls, "it's all over," and the family flees into the night. Inspired by her successful sneak inside to rescue her pink pig-puppet, she leads her family "up the back steps … Through the back door—into the back hall—and into the walls." Eventually the family gets tired of walls and wolves and comes out spoiling for a fight; the wolves flee to "somewhere where there would never be any people in the walls who would come out in the middle of the night whooping and singing people songs and brandishing chair legs." Though the story runs on too long, Gaiman has one creepy imagination, and his goosebump-inducing tale is given full visual throttle by McKean's mixed-media, graphic-novel-style illustrations. The fragmented images, combining photographic elements and elegant drafting, are more than slightly off-kilter, and the uneasiness supplied by the distorted perspectives and fluctuating proportions adds an arresting eeriness to Gaiman's fantasy (the slavering wolves are particularly unnerving). Hand this to a jaded third or fourth-grader and watch their eyes get big—the better to see you with, my dear.
Charles de Lint (review date December 2003)
SOURCE: de Lint, Charles. Review of The Wolves in the Walls, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean. Fantasy & Science Fiction 105, no. 6 (December 2003): 26.
I'd been looking forward to this book [The Wolves in the Walls ] ever since I first heard Gaiman talk about it on a panel at the 2002 World Fantasy Convention. Gaiman, it turns out, is one of those rare writers who can make a work-in-progress sound really fascinating. Usually, listening to that sort of thing makes for more tedium than I care to experience (don't tell me about the book, write it and let me read it on my own!), but Gaiman's brief description of a plucky young girl who realizes that wolves live inside the walls of her parents' house, and who then goes on to drive the family out so that they have to live at the bottom of the garden, promised to deliver a welcome helping of dark whimsy.
I was disappointed, however, when a galley arrived in my P.O. Box and I realized that The Wolves in the Walls wasn't so much like Coraline (a short novel with illustrations) as The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish (a children's picture book). But the disappointment only lasted as long as it took me to get to the third page where Lucy first hears noises in the walls.
What follows is another splendid foray into the dark and strange mind of Gaiman, who, if nothing else, never delivers a story that takes you where you think it will. The prose here is very simple. There's no age given—probably because the publisher knows that adults will pick up a Gaiman book for themselves as readily as they buy one for their children—but I'd guess it's in the neighborhood of five and up. You might want to vet the story and pictures for possible nightmare inducing, though kids are far more resilient than we adults think they are.
McKean's art won't necessarily be to everyone's taste—it's a bit confrontational, rather than typical picture book pretty—but I love the look of it, and I'm sure children will, too.
Carlie Kraft Webber (review date 2003)
SOURCE: Webber, Carlie Kraft. Review of The Wolves in the Walls, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean. KidsReads.com (online magazine) http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/038097827X.asp (2003).
Lucy knows that there are wolves living in the walls of her house. She can hear them hustling and bustling, creeping and crumpling. She tries to warn her family, but no one believes her. "You have an overactive imagination," says her father. "You must be hearing mice, I suppose," says her mother. "Bats," says her brother. Lucy however knows better, and everyone who's anyone knows that when the wolves come out of the walls, it's all over.
When the wolves do come out of the walls, as Lucy has told everyone they would, her family doesn't know what to do. They take up residency at the bottom of their garden, and while they're debating as to whether to live in a hot-air balloon or a tree house, Lucy decides to confront the wolves and reclaim the family's house.
Don't be fooled by the picture-book format [of The Wolves in the Walls ]; this is most definitely a book for older readers. The many different art techniques, from photo collages to paintings to pen-and-ink drawings, give a bizarre air to the book, yet it's one that is effective due to the quirky nature of Lucy's story.
Lucy is a character every reader will love: she is resilient, brave and thoughtful, and she does not tolerate anyone or anything terrorizing her family. Her attitude toward getting the wolves out of her house is inspiring and ingenious, because everyone who's anyone knows that when the people come out of the walls, it's all over.
Additional coverage of Gaiman's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vols. 19, 42; Contemporary Authors, Vol. 133; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 81, 129; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 195; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 261; Literature Resource Center; Major 21st-Century Writers, Ed. 2005; St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers; St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, Ed. 4; Something about the Author, Vols. 85, 146; and Supernatural Fiction Writers, Vol. 2.
Bender, Hy. The Sandman Companion. New York, N.Y.: DC Comics, 1999, 273 p.
Provides an overview of Gaiman's work on the Sandman comic book series, including plot summaries and interviews with Gaiman.
Keating, Anji. Review of The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean. Bloomsbury Review 17, no. 4 (July-August 1997): 21.
Compliments The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish for capturing "the fantastic feeling of being a kid."
McCarty, Michael, editor. "Good Omens: An Interview with Neil Gaiman." In Giants of the Genre, pp. 46-52. Holicong, Pa.: Wildside Press, 2003.
Brief interview with Gaiman focusing on his novel Good Omens, his children's work Coraline, his feelings about writer Douglas Adams, and an interview postscript describing a reading and book signing in 2001.
Zaleski, Jeff. "Comics! Books! Films!: The Arts and Ambitions of Neil Gaiman." Publishers Weekly 250, no. 30 (28 July 2003): 46-57.
Provides an overview of Gaiman's writing projects in the media of comics, books, and film, iincluding interview material with Gaiman, his agent, and his publishers.
Gaiman, Neil 1960-
Gaiman, Neil 1960-
Born November 10, 1960, in Portchester, England; son of David Bernard (a company director) and Sheila (a pharmacist) Gaiman; married Mary Therese McGrath, March 14, 1985; children: Michael Richard, Holly Miranda, Madeleine Rose Elvira. Education: Attended Ardingly College, 1970-74, and Whitgift School, 1974-77. Politics: "Wooly." Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: "Finding more bookshelf space."
Home—MN. Agent—(literary) Merilee Heifetz, Writer's House, 21 W. 26th St., New York, NY 10010; (film) Jon Levin, Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212-1825.
Fiction writer, screenwriter, poet, essayist, and journalist. Freelance journalist, 1983-87; full-time writer, 1987—. Director of A Short Film about John Bolton, Ska Films, 2004. Songwriter for bands The Flash Girls and One Ring Zero.
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (member of board of directors), International Museum of Cartoon Art (member of advisory board), Science Fiction Foundation (committee member), Society of Strip Illustrators (chair, 1988-90), British Fantasy Society.
Mekon Award, Society of Strip Illustrators, and Eagle Award for Best Graphic Novel, both 1988, both for Violent Cases; Eagle Award for Best Writer of American Comics, 1990; Harvey Award for Best Writer, 1990, 1991; Will Eisner Comic Industry Award for Best Writer and Best Graphic Album (Reprint), 1991; World Fan-
tasy Award for Best Short Story, 1991, for "A Midsummer Night's Dream"; Will Eisner Comics Industry Award for Best Writer, 1992; Harvey Award for Best Continuing Series, 1992; Will Eisner Comics Industry Award for Best Writer and Best Graphic Album (New), 1993; Gem Award, Diamond Distributors, 1993; Will Eisner Comics Industry Award for Best Writer, 1994; Guild Award, International Horror Critics, and World Fantasy Award nomination, both 1994, both for Angels and Visitations and short story "Troll Bridge"; SONY Radio Award, for script Signal to Noise; GLAAD Award for Best Comic, 1996, for Death: The Time of Your Life; Eagle Award for Best Comic, 1996; Lucca Best Writer Prize, 1997; Newsweek Best Children's Books listee, 1997, for The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish; Defender of Liberty Award, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, 1997; MacMillan Silver Pen Award, 1999, for Smoke and Mirrors; Hugo Award nomination, 1999, for Sandman: The Dream Hunters; Mythopoeic Award for Best Novel for Adults, 1999, for Stardust; Nebula Award nomination, 1999, for screenplay Princess Mononoke; Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Novel, Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel, Horror Writers Association, and British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Award nomination, all 2002, all for American Gods; BSFA Award for Best Short Fiction, Elizabeth Burr/Worzalla Award, Bram Stoker Award, Hugo Award for Best Novella, and Prix Tam Tam Award, all 2003, all for Coraline; World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story, 2003, for "October in the Chair"; BSFA Award for Best Short Fiction, 2004, for The Wolves in the Walls; Hugo Award for Best Short Story, 2004, for "A Study in Emerald"; Bram Stoker Award for Best Illustrative Narrative, 2004, for The Sandman: Endless Nights; Geffen Award, 2004, for Smoke and Mirrors; Locus Award for Best Short Story, 2004, for "Closing Time"; August Derleth Award, and Best Books for Young Adults selection, American Library Association (ALA), both 2006, both for Anansi Boys; Locus Award for Best Short Story, 2007, for "How to Talk to Girls at Parties"; Locus Award for Best Collection, 2007, for Fragile Things; John Newbery Medal for outstanding contribution to children's literature, ALA, 2009, for The Graveyard Book; international awards from Austria, Brazil, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.
The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, illustrated by Dave McKean, Borealis/White Wolf (Clarkson, GA), 1997.
Coraline (also see below), illustrated by Dave McKean, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
The Wolves in the Walls, illustrated by Dave McKean, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Mirrormask (special children's edition; based on the film of the same title; also see below), illustrated by Dave McKean, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
(With Michael Reaves) Interworld, Eos (New York, NY), 2005.
M Is for Magic, illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2007.
The Graveyard Book, illustrated by Dave McKean, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2008.
The Dangerous Alphabet, illustrated by Gris Grimly, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2008.
Blueberry Girl, illustrated by Charles Vess, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2008.
Crazy Hair, illustrated by Dave McKean, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2009.
Also author of Odd and the Frost Giants.
GRAPHIC NOVELS AND COMIC BOOKS
(With others) Jael and Sisera: Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament, illustrated by Julie Hollings, Knock-about (London, England), 1987.
Violent Cases (originally published in comic-book format, 1987), illustrated by Dave McKean, Titan (London, England), 1987, Tundra (Northampton, MA), 1991, third edition, Kitchen Sink Press (Northampton, MA), 1997.
Black Orchid (originally published in comic-book form, 1989), illustrated by Dave McKean, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1991.
Miracleman, Book 4: The Golden Age, illustrated by Mark Buckingham, Eclipse (Forestville, CA), 1992.
Signal to Noise (also see below), illustrated by Dave McKean, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 1992.
The Books of Magic (originally published in comic-book form), four volumes, illustrated by John Bolton and others, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1993.
The Tragical Comedy, or Comical Tragedy, of Mr. Punch: A Romance, illustrated by Dave McKean, VG Graphics (London, England), 1994, Vertigo/DC Comics (New York, NY), 1995.
(Author of text, with Alice Cooper) The Compleat Alice Cooper: Incorporating the Three Acts of Alice Cooper's The Last Temptation, illustrated by Michael Zulli, Marvel Comics (New York, NY), 1995, published as The Last Temptation, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 2000.
Angela, illustrated by Greg Capullo and Mark Pennington, Image (Anaheim, CA), 1995, published as Spawn: Angela's Hunt, 2000.
Stardust: Being a Romance within the Realms of Faerie, illustrated by Charles Vess, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1998, text published as Stardust, Spike (New York, NY), 1999.
(Author of text, with Matt Wagner) Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1999.
Green Lantern/Superman: Legend of the Green Flame, DC Comics (New York, NY), 2000.
Harlequin Valentine, illustrated by John Bolton, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 2001.
Murder Mysteries (based on play of the same title, also see below), illustrated by P. Craig Russell, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 2002.
1602 (originally published comic-book form as 1602, volumes 1-8), Marvel Comics (New York, NY), 2004.
The Eternals, illustrated by John Romita, Jr., Marvel Comics (New York, NY), 2007.
The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch, illustrated by Michael Zulli, Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukie, OR), 2008.
Coraline (graphic novel; based on the children's book of the same title), illustrated by P. Craig Russell, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2008.
Also author of Creatures of the Night, illustrated by Michael Zulli. Contributor of comics, including Babycakes and The Wheel, to anthologies. Creator of characters for comic books, including Lady Justice, Wheel of Worlds, Mr. Hero, Newmatic Man, Teknophage, and Lucifer. Co-editor of The Utterly Comic Relief Comic, UK Comic Relief Charity, 1991.
"SANDMAN" GRAPHIC-NOVEL SERIES
Sandman: The Doll's House (originally published in comic-book form), illustrated by Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1990.
Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes (originally published in comic-book form as Sandman, volumes 1-8), illustrated by Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones III, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1991.
Sandman: Dream Country (originally published in comic-book form as Sandman, volumes 17-20; contains "A Midsummer's Night's Dream"), illustrated by Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran, and Malcolm Jones III, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1991.
Sandman: Season of Mists (originally published in comic-book form as Sandman, volumes 21-28), illustrated by Kelley Jones, Malcolm Jones III, Mike Dringenberg, and others, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1992.
Sandman: A Game of You (originally published in comic-book form as Sandman, volumes 32-37), illustrated by Shawn McManus and others, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1993.
Sandman: Fables and Reflections (originally published in comic-book form as Sandman, volumes 29-31, 38-40, 50), illustrated by Bryan Talbot, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1994.
Death: The High Cost of Living (originally published in comic-book form in three volumes), illustrated by Dave McKean, Mark Buckingham, and others, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1994.
Sandman: Brief Lives (originally published in comic-book form as Sandman, volumes 41-49), illustrated by Jill Thompson, Dick Giordano, and Vince Locke, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1994.
Sandman: World's End (originally published in comic-book form as Sandman, volumes 51-56), illustrated by Dave McKean, Mark Buckingham, Dick Giordano, and others, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1994.
(Author of text, with Matt Wagner) Sandman: Midnight Theatre, illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1995.
(Editor, with Edward E. Kramer) The Sandman: Book of Dreams, HarperPrism (New York, NY), 1996.
Sandman: The Kindly Ones (originally published in comic-book form as Sandman, volumes 57-69), illustrated by Marc Hempel, Richard Case, and others, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1996.
Death: The Time of Your Life, illustrated by Mark Buckingham and others, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1997.
(Author of commentary and a story) Dustcovers: The Collected Sandman Covers, 1989-1997, illustrated by Dave McKean, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1997, published as The Collected Sandman Covers, 1989-1997, Watson-Guptill (New York, NY), 1997.
Sandman: The Wake, (originally published in comic-book form as Sandman, volumes 70-75), illustrated by Michael Zulli, Charles Vess, and others, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1997.
(Reteller) Sandman: The Dream Hunters, illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1999.
The Quotable Sandman: Memorable Lines from the Acclaimed Series, DC Comics (New York, NY), 2000.
The Sandman: Endless Nights, illustrated by P. Craig Russell, Milo Manara, and others, DC Comics (New York, NY), 2003.
The Absolute Sandman, Volume One, DC Comics (New York, NY), 2006.
The Absolute Sandman, Volume Two, DC Comics (New York, NY), 2007.
The Absolute Sandman, Volume Three, DC Comics (New York, NY), 2008.
Contributor to The Sandman Companion, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1999.
(With Terry Pratchett) Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (novel), Gollancz (London, England), 1990, revised edition, Workman (New York, NY), 1990.
(With Mary Gentle) Villains! (short stories), edited by Mary Gentle and Roz Kaveney, ROC (London, England), 1992.
(With Mary Gentle and Roz Kaveney) The Weerde: Book One (short stories), ROC (London, England), 1992.
(With Mary Gentle and Roz Kaveney) The Weerde: Book Two: The Book of the Ancients (short stories), ROC (London, England), 1992.
Angels and Visitations: A Miscellany (short stories), illustrated by Steve Bissette and others, DreamHaven Books and Art (Minneapolis, MN), 1993.
Neverwhere (novel), BBC Books (London, England), 1996, Avon (New York, NY), 1997.
Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions (short stories), Avon (New York, NY), 1998.
American Gods (novel), William Morrow (New York, NY), 2001.
(Reteller) Snow Glass Apples, illustrated by George Walker, Biting Dog Press (Duluth, GA), 2003.
Anansi Boys, Morrow (New York, NY), 2005.
Mirrormask (illustrated film script; based on the film of the same title; also see below), illustrated by Dave McKean, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders, Morrow (New York, NY), 2006.
(With Kim Newman) Ghastly beyond Belief, Arrow (London, England), 1985.
(With Stephen Jones) Now We Are Sick: A Sampler, privately published, 1986, published as Now We Are Sick: An Anthology of Nasty Verse, DreamHaven (Minneapolis, MN), 1991.
(With Alex Stewart) Temps, ROC (London, England), 1991.
(With Alex Stewart) Euro Temps, ROC (London, England), 1992.
(With Lenny Henry) Neverwhere, BBC2 (London, England), 1996.
Signal to Noise, BBC Radio 3 (London, England), 1996.
Day of the Dead: An Annotated Babylon 5 Script (episode of television series Babylon 5, 1998), DreamHaven (Minneapolis, MN), 1998.
Princess Mononoke (English translation of Japanese-language screenplay by Hayao Miyazak), Miramax (New York, NY), 1999.
(And director) A Short Film about John Bolton, Ska Films, 2002.
MirrorMask (based on the children's book of the same title), Samuel Goldwyn, 2005.
(With Roger Avary) Beowulf, Paramount Pictures, 2007.
Author of scripts for films Avalon, The Confessions of William Henry Ireland, The Fermata, Modesty Blaise, and others.
Duran Duran: The First Four Years of the Fab Five (biography), Proteus (New York, NY), 1984.
Don't Panic: The Official Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1988, revised edition with additional material by David K. Dickson as Don't Panic: Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Titan (London, England), 1993.
Warning: Contains Language (readings; compact disc), music by Dave McKean and the Flash Girls, DreamHaven (Minneapolis, MN), 1995.
(Co-illustrator) The Dreaming: Beyond the Shores of Night, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1997.
(Co-illustrator) The Dreaming: Through the Gates of Horn and Ivory, DC Comics (New York, NY), 1998.
Neil Gaiman: Live at the Aladdin (videotape), Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (Northampton, MA), 2001.
(With Gene Wolfe) A Walking Tour of the Shambles (nonfiction), American Fantasy Press (Woodstock, IL), 2001.
Murder Mysteries (play), illustrated by George Walker, Biting Dog Press (Duluth, GA), 2001.
Adventures in the Dream Trade (nonfiction and fiction), edited by Tony Lewis and Priscilla Olson, NESFA Press (Framingham, MA), 2002.
Gaiman's works, including the short story "Troll Bridge," have been represented in numerous anthologies. Contributor of prefaces and introductions to several books. Contributor to newspapers and magazines, including Knave, Punch, London Observer, London Sunday Times, Wired, New York Times Book Review, Washington Post Book World, and Time Out.
Gaiman's books have been translated into other languages, including Bulgarian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Spanish, and Swedish.
The Books of Magic was adapted into novel form by Carla Jablonski and others, individual titles include The Invitation, The Blindings, and The Children's Crusade, HarperCollins (New York, NY). Several of Gaiman's works have been released as audiobooks, including Neverwhere, HighBridge Audio, 1997, American Gods, Harper Audio, 2001, Coraline (read by the author), HarperAudio, 2002, and Two Plays for Voices (includes Snow Glass Apples and Murder Mysteries), Harper Audio, 2003. Signal to Noise was adapted as a stage play by NOWtheater (Chicago, IL). Stardust was adapted as a major motion picture, Paramount, 2007; Coraline was adapted as a major motion picture, Focus Features, 2009. Several of Gaiman's works have been optioned for film, including Sandman, The Books of Magic, Death: The High Cost of Living, Good Omens, and Chivalry.
An author of comic books, graphic novels, prose novels, children's books, short fiction, nonfiction, and screenplays, Neil Gaiman is a best-selling writer who is considered perhaps the most accomplished and influential figure in modern comics as well as one of the most gifted of contemporary fantasists. Characteristically drawing from mythology, history, literature, and popular culture to create his works, Gaiman blends the everyday, the fantastic, the frightening, and the humorous to present his stories. His writing reveals the mysteries that lie just outside of reality as well as the insights that come from experiencing these mysteries. In the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers, a contributor noted that when Gaiman "is on form (which is most of the time), he is without peer…. His blending of poetic prose, marvelous inventions, and artistic vision has assured him of his place in the vanguard of modern-day dark fantasists."
Gaiman refers to the plots and characters of classical literature and myth—most notably fairy tales, horror stories, science fiction, and traditional romances—while adding fresh, modern dimensions. In fact, he is credited with developing a new mythology with his works, which address themes such as what it means to be human; the importance of the relationship between humanity and art; humanity's desire for dreams and for attaining what they show; and the passage from childish ways of thinking to more mature understanding. Al-
though most of the author's works are not addressed to children, Gaiman has written a number of titles for young readers, including Coraline, an international bestseller, and The Graveyard Book, winner of the 2009 John Newbery Medal.
Gaiman, who has developed a huge cult-like following as well as celebrity status, is perhaps best known as the creator of the comic-book and graphic-novel series about the Sandman. This character, which is based loosely on a crime-fighting superhero that first appeared in DC Comics in the 1930s and 1940s, is the protagonist of an epic series of dark fantasies that spanned several years and ran for seventy-five monthly issues. Among his other works, Gaiman has co-written a satiric fantasy about the end of the world with English novelist Terry Pratchett; comic books about Todd MacFarlane's popular character Spawn; and screenplays for film, television, and radio, both original scripts and adaptations of his own works. Throughout his career, he has worked with a number of talented artists in the field of comic books and fantasy, including John Bolton, Michael Zulli, Yoshitaka Amaro, Charles Vess, and longtime collaborator Dave McKean.
As a prose stylist, Gaiman is known for writing clearly and strongly, using memorable characters and striking images to build his dreamlike worlds. Although his books and screenplays can range from somber to creepy to horrifying, he is commended for underscoring them with optimism and sensitivity and for balancing their darkness with humor and wit. Reviewers have praised Gaiman for setting new standards for comic books as literature and for helping to bring increased popularity to graphic fiction. Although the author occasionally has been accused of being ponderous and self-indulgent, he generally is considered a phenomenon, a brilliant writer and storyteller whose works reflect his inventiveness, originality, and wisdom. According to London Times contributor Amanda Craig, "his richly imaginative, dark fantasies have the classic element of appealing to the adult in children and the child in adults." Referring to Gaiman's graphic novels, Frank McConnell stated in Commonweal that the author "may just be the most gifted and important storyteller in English" and called him "our best and most bound-to-be-remembered writer of fantasy."
Born in Portchester, England, Gaiman was brought up in an upper-middle-class home. A voracious reader, he recalled in an interview with Ray Olson of Booklist that he first read Alice in Wonderland "when I was five, maybe, and always kept it around as default reading between the ages of five and twelve, and occasionally picked up and reread since. There are things Lewis Carroll did in Alice that are etched onto my circuitry." When he was about fourteen years old, Gaiman began his secondary education at Whitgift School, and by 1977, he felt that he was ready to become a professional writer. That same year, Gaiman left Whitgift School.
After receiving a number of rejections for short stories that he had written, Gaiman decided to become a freelance journalist so that he could learn about the world of publishing from the inside. In 1983, he discovered the work of English comic-strip writer Alan Moore, whose Swamp Thing quickly became a special favorite. As Gaiman told an interviewer in Authors and Artists for Young Adults, "Moore's work convinced me that you really could do work in comics that had the same amount of intelligence, the same amount of passion, the same amount of quality that you could put in any other medium." In 1984 Gaiman produced his first book, Duran Duran: The First Four Years of the Fab Five. Once he had established his credibility as a writer, Gaiman was able to sell the short stories that he had completed earlier in his career, and he decided that he was ready to concentrate on fiction. In addition, the comics industry was experiencing a new influx of talent, which inspired Gaiman to consider becoming a contributor to that medium.
In 1986 Gaiman met art student McKean; their first collaboration was the comic book Violent Cases. Around the same time, Gaiman contributed to Jael and Sisera:Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament, which is credited with giving him almost instant notoriety in the comic-book community. Gaiman teamed with McKean again to do a limited-run comic series, Black Orchid, the first of the author's works to be released by DC Comics. Gaiman then was offered his choice of inactive DC characters to rework from the Golden Age of Comics (the 1930s and 1940s); he chose the Sandman. As originally presented, millionaire Wesley Dodds, a.k.a. the Sandman, hunted criminals by night wearing a fedora, cape, and a gas mask. When Gaiman began the series in 1988, he changed the whole scope of the character. The Sandman, who is also called Dream, Morpheus, Oneiros, Lord Shaper, Master of Story, and God of Sleep, became a thin, enigmatic figure with a pale face, dark eyes, and a shock of black hair. The Sandman is one of the Endless, immortals in charge of individual realms of the human psyche. The Sandman's brothers and sisters in the Endless are (in birth order) Destiny, Death, Destruction, the twins Desire and Despair, and Delirium (formerly Delight). Dream (the Sandman) falls between Death and Destruction.
[Image not available for copyright reasons]
In Preludes and Nocturnes, Gaiman introduces the Sandman, the ageless lord of dreams, who has just returned home after being captured by a coven of wizards and held in an asylum for the criminally insane for seventy-two years. Dream finds that his home is in ruins, that his powers are diminished, and that his three tools—a helmet, a pouch of sand, and a ruby stone—have been stolen. Dream comes to realize that his captivity has affected him: he has become humanized, and he understands that he eventually will have to die.
In The Doll's House, Dream travels across the United States searching for the Arcana, the stray dreams and nightmares of the twentieth century that have taken on human form. Dream Country centers on Calliope, a muse and the mother of Dream's son, Orpheus. (In 1991, "A Midsummer's Night's Dream," a tale from Dream Country, won the World Fantasy Award for best short story, the first time that a comic book had won a prize that was not related to its own medium.) In Season of Mists, Dream meets Lucifer, who has stepped down from his position as ruler of Hell and has left the choice of his successor to Dream.
A Game of You features Barbara (nicknamed Barbie), a character who had appeared in The Doll's House. Barbie is drawn back into the dream realm that she ruled as a child in order to save it from the evil Cuckoo, who plans to destroy it. Fables and Reflections, a collection of stories featuring the characters from the series, includes Gaiman's retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus. Brief Lives finds Dream and Delirium on a quest to find Destruction, who exiled himself on Earth over three hundred years ago. World's End includes a collection of tales told by a group of travelers who are waiting out a storm in an inn. In The Kindly Ones Hippolyta takes revenge upon Dream for the disappearance of her son with the assistance of the title characters, mythological beings also known as the Furies. In the final chapter of the series, The Wake, the Endless attend a ceremony to mark the passing of Dream.
Assessing the "Sandman" series, McConnell stated that what Gaiman has done "is to establish the fact that a comic book can be a work of high and very serious art—a story that other storytellers, in whatever medium they work, will have to take into account as an exploration of what stories can do and what stories are for." The critic concluded, "I know of nothing quite like it, and I don't expect there will be anything like it for some time." In the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Joe Sanders noted: "The Sandman is an example of how a serious writer can utilize the comics medium. Gaiman used the delay between issues to control his readers' absorption of details, especially in the long, methodically paced series of catastrophes leading to Morpheus's death in The Kindly Ones." In addition to using different artists to vary the mood of his works, Sanders wrote that Gaiman "utilized the cheeky looseness of comics to bring together an astonishing range of images; The Sandman considers, with equal sympathy and assurance, the personal and professional life of Shakespeare and the interpersonal dynamics of a convention of serial killers."
Although the "Sandman" series ended in 1996, DC Comics has since re-released the comics in a series of deluxe editions. The "Sandman" stories have also inspired related volumes, such as a book of quotations from the series, and merchandise such as action figures, stuffed toys, trading cards, jewelry, and watches. Discussing the success of his franchise in an interview on the Powell's Books Web site, Gaiman told John Bolton: "What I feel proudest of, honestly, is the fact that you're looking at a series of comics that I began to write seventeen years ago, that finished a decade ago, that is still in print right now, and selling more than it ever has."
Throughout his career, Gaiman has frequently featured young people as main characters in his works. The Books of Magic a collection of four comics that predates J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series, features a thirteen-year-old boy, Tim Hunter, who is told that he has the capabilities to be the greatest wizard in the world. Tim, a boy from urban London who wears oversized glasses, is taken by the Trenchcoat Brigade—sorcerers with names like The Mysterious Phantom Stranger, the Incorrigible Hellblazer, and the Enigmatic Dr. Occult—on a tour of the universe to learn its magical history. Tim travels to Hell, to the land of Faerie, and to America, among other places, each of them showing him a different aspect of the world of magic. He also searches for his girlfriend Molly, who has been abducted into the fantasy realms; after he finds her, the two of them face a series of dangers as they struggle to return to their own world. At the end of the story, Tim must make a decision to embrace or reject his talents as a wizard. The Books of Magic also includes cameos by the Sandman and his sister Death. Writing in Locus, Carolyn Cushman said, "It's a fascinating look at magic, its benefits and burdens, all dramatically illustrated [by John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, and Paul Johnson], and with a healthy helping of humor."
Stardust tells a love story of seventeen-year-old Tristran Thorn who journeys to the fanciful land of Faerie on a quest to fetch a fallen star far from his village of Wall. He has promised his love, Victoria, this star, and on his journey he has to deal with others more powerful and ruthless who also seek the fallen star. Finally, Tristran's journey brings him back to a faerie market near his village where all secrets about his parentage are revealed. Set in nineteenth-century England, the tale "evokes the crisp style of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales," according to Kurt Lancaster writing in the Christian Science Monitor. Susan Salpini, reviewing Stardust for School Library Journal, called it an "old-fashioned fairy tale of mythic images, magic, and lyrical passages." Salpini further commented, "While the bones of the story—the hero, the quest, the maiden—are traditional, Gaiman offers a role that is fresh and original." A contributor to Publishers Weekly noted that the author "employs exquisitely rich language, natural wisdom, good humor and a dash of darkness to conjure up a fairy tale in the grand tradition."
In 1996 Gaiman and McKean produced their first work for children: the picture book The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish. In this tale, a little boy trades his father for two of his neighbor's goldfish while his little sister stares, horrified. When their mother finds out what has happened, she is furious. She makes the children go and get back their father who, unfortunately, has already been traded for an electric guitar. While on their quest to find him, the siblings decide that their father is a very good daddy after all. The children finally retrieve their father, who has been reading a newspaper all during his adventure. At home, their mother makes the children promise not to swap their dad any more. Writing in Bloomsbury Review, Anji Keating called The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish "fabulously funny" and dubbed the protagonists' journey to fetch their father "delightful." Malcolm Jones, writing in Newsweek, predicted that Gaiman and McKean "may shock a few grandparents … but in fact the most shocking thing they've done in this droll story is to take the illegible look of cutting-edge magazines like Raygun and somehow make it readable."
In 2003 Gaiman and McKean completed a second picture book, The Wolves in the Walls. In this work, young Lucy hears wolves living in the walls of the old house where she and her family live; of course, no one believes her. When the wolves emerge to take over the house, Lucy and her family flee. However, Lucy wants her house back, and she also wants the beloved pig-puppet that she left behind. She talks her family into going back into the house, where they move into the walls that had been vacated by the wolves. Lucy and her family then frighten the sharp-clawed usurpers, who are wearing their clothes and eating their food. The wolves scatter, and everything seems to go back to normal until Lucy hears another noise in the walls; this time, it sounds like elephants. In her Booklist review of The Wolves in the Walls, Francisca Goldsmith found the book "visually and emotionally sophisticated, accessible, and inspired by both literary and popular themes and imagery." Writing in School Library Journal, Marian Creamer commented that "Gaiman and McKean deftly pair text and illustration to convey a strange, vivid story," and predicted that "children will delight in the ‘scary, creepy tone.’"
Gaiman's first story for middle-graders, Coraline, outlines how the title character, a young girl who feels that she is being ignored by her preoccupied parents, enters a terrifying, malevolent alternate reality to save them after they are kidnapped. The story begins when Coraline and her parents move into their new house, which is divided into apartments. Left to her own devices, the bored girl explores the house and finds a door in the empty flat next door that leads her to a world that is a twisted version of her own. There, Coraline meets two odd-looking individuals who call themselves her "other mother" and "other father." The Other Mother, a woman who looks like Coraline's mom except for her blackbutton eyes and stiletto fingernails, wants Coraline to stay with her and her husband. Tempted by good food and interesting toys, Coraline considers the offer. However, when the girl returns home, she finds that her parents have disappeared. Coraline discovers that they are trapped in the other world, and she sets out to save them. The Other Mother, who turns out to be a soul-sucking harpy, enters into a deadly game of hide-and-seek with Coraline, and the girl ultimately discovers new qualities of bravery and resolve within herself.
After its publication, Coraline became a subject of dispute. Some adult observers saw it as too frightening for young readers. However, other observers noted that children of their acquaintance considered it exciting rather than overly frightening. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly wrote that Gaiman and illustrator McKean "spin an electrifyingly creepy tale likely to haunt young readers for many moons…. Gaiman twines his tale with a menacing tone and crisp prose fraught with memorable imagery …, yet keeps the narrative just this side of terrifying." Writing in School Library Journal, Bruce Anne Shook commented that "the story is odd, strange, even slightly bizarre, but kids will hang on every word…. This is just right for all those requests for a scary book." A critic in Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book that, "for stouthearted kids who love a brush with the sinister, Coraline is spot on." Coraline has won several major fantasy awards and was adapted as a graphic novel and a major motion picture.
M Is for Magic, a collection of stories aimed at a young adult audience, features a number of tales from Gaiman's hard-to-find Angels and Visitations: A Miscellany. According to a critic in Publishers Weekly, the "volume is an excellent reminder of his considerable talent for short-form prose." Interworld, a science-fiction novel coauthored by Gaiman and Michael Reaves, centers on Joey Harker, an ordinary youngster who discovers that he has the ability to travel between dimensions. Once inside the Altiverse, which contains an infinite series of alternate Earths, Joey learns that he is at the center of an epic confrontation pitting the forces of science against the forces of magic. "Filled with bizarre imagery, innovative world-building, and breathless action, Interworld is equal parts survival escapade and David-and-Goliath epic," noted Kliatt reviewer Claire E. Gross, and John Peters, writing in Booklist, described the novel as a "fast-paced, compulsively readable tale."
Illustrated by Gris Grimly, The Dangerous Alphabet is Gaiman's take on the familiar alphabet book, with an eerie twist. In the work, a pair of Victorian children sneaks away from their father and, accompanied by their pet gazelle, journeys to an underworld where hidden treasure awaits. Along the way, however, the girl is captured by evil-doers and her brother must battle pirates, monsters, and trolls to rescue her. The children's story is told through thirteen rhyming couplets which incorporate the twenty-six letters. "Skillful narrative and visual storytelling combine to present a complex adventure that unravels through multilayered text and illustrations," Susannah Richards observed in School Library Journal, and Booklist contributor Thom Barthelmess reported that the author and illustrator of The Dangerous Alphabet "have combined forces to produce an acrid, gothic confection that bubbles with vitriol and wit."
The Graveyard Book, a reimagining of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, was inspired by Gaiman's trips to the cemetery with his then two-year-old son and took more than two decades to write. While his family is being murdered, a toddler slips away and finds refuge in a nearby graveyard, where he is cared for by the ghoulish inhabitants. Renamed Nobody Owens, or "Bod" for short, the youngster eventually rejoins the human world, where he encounters the mysterious killer from his past. The Graveyard Book earned rave reviews; Patrick Ness, writing in the London Guardian, praised "the outrageous riches of Gaiman's imagination." In the Scotsman, Charlie Fletcher called the work "a robust, big-hearted fantasy, tinged with darkness and lit with humour and surprise, and deeper than its genre surface might hint at." As Fletcher added, "the novel certainly has depth, along with its wide-ranging playfulness, and it has a sureness of tone in terms of precisely what aspects of the dark and macabre to omit, and what to leave in." According to Gross, "Gaiman's assured plotting is as bittersweet as it is action-filled … and makes this ghost-story-cum-coming-of-age-novel as readable as it is accomplished."
The mainstream success of Stardust, as well as the book and film versions of Coraline, and The Graveyard Book, "has changed Gaiman's place in the world from cult comic writer to respected author and highly sought-after creator of film, television and radio content," a contributor observed in the London Independent. As Gaiman stated in the same article, "I'm being taken seriously on a level that would have been inconceivable for someone who wrote comics, children's stories and fantasies to have been taken seriously 15 years ago." That kind of recognition is long overdue, Fletcher declared, adding his hopes that one day Gaiman will "no longer merely be seen as one of the brightest lights of the fantasy section in the increasingly ghettoised bookstores of the world. People will be saying he's one of the great British writers. Period."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 19, 1996, Volume 42, 2002.
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Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 261: British Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers since 1960, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.
Kwitney, Alisa, The Sandman: King of Dreams, introduction by Neil Gaiman, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2003.
Neil Gaiman on His Work and Career: A Conversation with Bill Baker, Rosen (New York, NY), 2008.
St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Bloomsbury Review, July-August, 1997, Anji Keating, review of The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, p. 21.
Booklist, August, 2002, Ray Olson, interview with Gaiman, p. 19, and Stephanie Zvirin, review of Coraline, p. 1948; August, 2003, Francisca Goldsmith, review of The Wolves in the Walls, p. 1989; August, 2005, Ray Olson, review of Anansi Boys, p. 1952; September 1, 2007, John Peters, review of InterWorld, p. 114; March 1, 2008, Thom Barthelmess, review of The Dangerous Alphabet, p. 72; May 15, 2008, Ray Olson, review of The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch, p. 27.
Christian Science Monitor, February 18, 1999, Kurt Lancaster, review of Stardust, p. 19.
Commonweal, December 2, 1994, Frank McConnell, review of Mister Punch, p. 27; October 20, 1995, Frank McConnell, review of Sandman, p. 21; June 19, 1998, Frank McConnell, review of Neverwhere, p. 21.
Entertainment Weekly, June 24, 1994, Ken Tucker, review of Sandman, pp. 228-229; September 23, 2005, Jennifer Reese, "Lost ‘Boys’: Neil Gaiman Goes on a Madcap, Tangential Whirl in Anansi Boys," p. 93.
Guardian (London, England), July 14, 1999, Nick Hasted, "The Illustrated Man," p. 12; October 25, 2008, Patrick Ness, review of The Graveyard Book, p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter, September 14, 2005, Gina McIntyre, "Cheap Thrills: Fantasy Author Neil Gaiman Finds Reality a Special Effect, p. 57; July 24, 2007, Noel Murray, "Dialogue with Neil Gaiman," p. 1.
Horn Book, September-October, 2007, Claire E. Gross, review of InterWorld, p. 575; November-December, 2008, Claire E. Gross, review of The Graveyard Book, p. 703.
Independent (London, England), October 22, 2007, interview with Gaiman, p. 10.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2002, review of Coraline, p. 88; July 15, 2006, review of Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders, p. 691; April 1, 2008, review of The Dangerous Alphabet; January 15, 2009, review of Blueberry Girl.
Kliatt, July, 2008, George Galuschak, review of The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch, p. 32; September, 2008, Paula Rohrlick, review of The Graveyard Book, p. 10, and George Galuschak, review of Coraline, p. 32.
Library Journal, September 15, 1990, Keith R.A. DeCandido, review of The Golden Age, p. 104.
Locus, April, 1993, Carolyn Cushman, review of The Books of Magic, p. 29.
Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2008, Geoff Boucher, interview with Gaiman.
Newsweek, December 1, 1997, Malcolm Jones, review of The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, p. 77.
New York Times, January 27, 2009, Motoko Rich, "The Graveyard Book Wins Newbery Medal," p. C1.
New York Times Book Review, November 9, 2008, Becca Zerkin, review of The Dangerous Alphabet, p. 2.
Publishers Weekly, November 23, 1998, review of Stardust, p. 63; June 24, 2002, review of Coraline, p. 57; July 18, 2005, review of Anansi Boys, p. 180; July 17, 2006, review of Fragile Things, p. 131; July 9, 2007, review of M Is for Magic, p. 54; December 15, 2008, review of Blueberry Girl, p. 52.
School Library Journal, February, 1999, Susan Salpini, review of Stardust, p. 142; August, 2002, Bruce Anne Shook, review of Coraline, p. 184; September, 2003, Marian Creamer, review of The Wolves in the Walls, p. 178; August, 2007, Beth Wright, review of M Is for Magic, p. 116; May, 2008, Susannah Richards, review of The Dangerous Alphabet, p. 98; October, 2008, Megan Honig, review of The Graveyard Book, p. 144.
Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland), November 8, 2008, Charlie Fletcher, interview with Gaiman.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), November 16, 2007, Colin Covert, "Gaiman's Take on Beowulf: Beyond Heroics," p. 13F.
Sunday Times (London, England), July 15, 1990, Nicolette Jones, review of Violent Cases; November 2, 2008, Nicolette Jones, review of The Graveyard Book, p. 57.
Times (London, England), November 1, 2008, Amanda Craig, interview with Gaiman, p. 8.
USA Today, July 31, 2007), Anthony Breznican, "Storyteller Gaiman Wishes upon a Star," p. 1D.
Washington Post Book World, April 7, 2002, Michael Swanwick, "Reel Worlds," p. 3.
Neil Gaiman Home Page,http://www.neilgaiman.com (February 15, 2009).
Neil Gaiman Web log,http://journal.neilgaiman.com (February 15, 2009).
Powell's Books Web site,http://www.powells.com/ (August, 2005), Chris Bolton, interview with Gaiman.
Time Online,http://www.time.com/ (September 25, 2005), Lev Grossman, "Interview: Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon."
November 10, 1960 • Portchester, England
Neil Gaiman is an extraordinarily imaginative writer who works in a variety of formats, writing graphic novels (or, book-length comics), short stories, novels, children's books, and scripts for television and films. His works are classified in a number of different genres, from horror to fantasy to science fiction, and often he jumps from one genre to another within a single work. Gaiman understands the conventional rules of writing fiction, particularly comic books, but he rarely follows such rules, choosing instead to pursue the winding paths of his imagination. Gaiman has achieved rock-star status among his millions of fans, and is best known for his Sandman series of comic books. He began writing Sandman installments in the late 1980s, developing a passionate following along the way. After a break of several years from Sandman, he published the graphic novel Sandman: Endless Nights in 2003. In October of that year, Endless Nights reached number twenty on the New York Times bestseller list, a rare feat for a comic book. Gaiman has also achieved success with a novella, or short novel, for young adults, titled Coraline. The novel earned a number of prestigious awards, including the Hugo and Nebula awards for outstanding works of science fiction and fantasy, and the Bram Stoker award, which is given to exceptional works of horror.
"All my life, I've felt that I was getting away with something because I was just making things up and writing them down, and that one day there would be a knock, and a man with a clipboard would be standing there and say, 'It says here you've just been making things up all these years. Now it's time to go off and work in a bank.'"
A reader becomes a writer
Gaiman was born in Portchester, England, in 1960. His mother, a pharmacist, and his father, the director of a company, encouraged their young son's reading habits, although even without such encouragement Gaiman would probably have been an avid reader. He devoured every book he could get his hands on as a child, working his way through the entire local children's library and partway through the adult collection as well. In an interview on the KAOS2000 Magazine Web site, Gaiman explained that he carried a book with him wherever he went: "Before weddings, bar mitzvahs, funerals and anything else where you're actually meant to not be reading, my family would frisk me and take the book away." He read books in a number of different genres, especially comics, and he was particularly drawn to science fiction and fantasy works. While preparing for his own bar mitzvah, a Jewish ceremony marking a young man's transition to the world of adulthood, Gaiman became entranced by religious and mystical Jewish writings.
As a teenager Gaiman began to outgrow the comic books he had loved as a child. Faced with a lack of comic books aimed at a more mature audience, Gaiman decided to fill that need himself. He wanted to write comic books when he grew up, although at the time he had no idea how to accomplish that goal. After graduating from high school in 1977, Gaiman became a journalist. He wrote articles for a number of British newspapers and magazines, including the Sunday Times, the Observer, and Time Out. In 1983 he and partner Mary McGrath had their first child, named Michael. In March of 1985 Gaiman wed McGrath, and that same year their daughter, Holly, was born. During that time Gaiman began writing short stories, including such titles as "How to Be a Barbarian," "How to Spot a Psycho," and "Jokers through History."
In the early 1980s Gaiman began reading the works of esteemed British comic book writer Alan Moore, author of such landmark works as Swamp Thing and Watchmen. He told Authors and Artist for Young Adults (AAYA) : "Moore's work convinced me that you really could do work in comics that had the same amount of intelligence, the same amount of passion, the same amount of quality that you could put in any other medium," such as novels, short stories, or films. While comic books had been around since the 1930s, the development of the graphic novel as a serious form of literature was relatively recent, and the rules for the genre were still being written. Gaiman was drawn to the experimental nature of adult-oriented comic books and graphic novels, and in the mid-1980s he began writing comics. He wrote several issues of a series called 2000AD before publishing the graphic novel Violent Cases in 1987. Violent Cases depicts a grown man's childhood recollections, with a visit to an elderly doctor as the starting point of those memories. While treating the four-year-old child for a broken arm, the doctor shares vivid stories from decades earlier, when the infamous gangster Al Capone was his patient.
After publishing Violent Cases, which was illustrated by his frequent collaborator Dave McKean, Gaiman came to the attention of celebrated publisher DC Comics, home of Batman and Superman. His next work, a three-part series called Black Orchid, was published by DC Comics, the first of Gaiman's many works to find a home there. The series revisits a character from DC's history, the crime-fighting heroine named in the title. Black Orchid is quite different from the typical female characters in comic books; Gaiman described her to AAYA as "vaguely feminist, ecological, essentially nonviolent. I liked the fact that at the end she doesn't get mad and start hitting people." For his next venture, DC asked Gaiman to revive another old character, and Gaiman chose the little-known Sandman, a character that originated in the 1940s. DC hired Gaiman to write a monthly serial featuring the Sandman, a career move intended to build the writer's reputation. Much to the surprise of both Gaiman and DC Comics, the Sandman series was an immediate hit.
Not Comic Books: The Stories and Novels of Neil Gaiman
While Neil Gaiman initially and enduringly captured the imaginations of millions of readers with his Sandman comics and other graphic novels, he has also applied his seemingly endless energy to works of prose, namely novels and short stories.
Gaiman began writing short stories before ever penning a comic book, and some of his stories and story-poems have been collected into the volumes Angels and Visitations (1993) and Smoke and Mirrors (1998). As with his other writings, these collections range across many genres, from fantasy, science fiction, and horror, to comedy and mystery.
Gaiman's first novel was a comedic collaboration with English writer Terry Pratchett. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (1990) was written over a period of several weeks in 1989, with Gaiman and Pratchett sharing their contributions over the phone, each working hard to make the other laugh hysterically. The novel uses slapstick comedy to address the most serious of subjects: the end of humankind. In 2003 Good Omens was named one of England's one hundred "best-loved novels" in a poll conducted by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
In 1996 Gaiman published Neverwhere, a novel that came about after he had written the script for a six-part BBC series with the same title. Dissatisfied with the many compromises made during the filming of the series, Gaiman opted to regain control of his ideas by issuing the work as a novel. In an interview on the Writers Write Web site, Gaiman related that every time a major alteration was made to his script during the production of the series, he would think to himself, "It's OK, I'll put it back in the novel." The book explores the adventures of Londoner Richard Mayhew, who encounters a girl named Door, a visitor from an otherworldly place called London Below. Door has the ability to travel between the two worlds, the real London and the fantastical underground London, and Mayhew accompanies her, helping her flee a pair of brutal assassins. Attempting once again to bring his vision of Neverwhere to the screen, Gaiman sold the rights to his novel to Jim Henson Productions, the company best known as the home of the Muppets.
For Stardust, Gaiman collaborated with artist Charles Vess to produce a short, richly illustrated fantasy novel. Described by many as an adult fairy story, Stardust tells the romantic tale of a young man battling powerful foes to retrieve a fallen star promised to his beloved. Stardust was initially released as a four-part illustrated series by DC Comics in 1997 and 1998; one year later, Spike Books issued a one-volume version without illustrations. Critics raved, fans went wild, and plans were soon underway to make a Stardust movie.
In 2001 Gaiman released American Gods, perhaps his best-known work outside of his graphic novels. A typical Gaiman hodge-podge of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and mythology, American Gods tells the story of ancient European gods who accompanied waves of immigrants to the shores of the United States, only to be discarded and ignored in modern society. They have been replaced by American-bred gods such as Media and Technology, and the old-time gods are fed up and looking for a fight with their newer counterparts. American Gods connected with Gaiman's many fans and earned new fans as well, all of whom propelled the book to a spot on the New York Times bestseller list. The novel won numerous awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, SFX (for outstanding works of science fiction and fantasy), and the Bram Stoker award for distinguished works of horror. While Gaiman established his reputation with his groundbreaking work in comics, he has cemented his legacy by applying his creativity to every existing genre and by inventing a few new ones as well.
The Lord of Dreams
Gaiman's first Sandman installment came out in 1989, and over the next eight years a total of seventy-five issues were released. With each new comic, Gaiman elaborated on the complex universe surrounding the Sandman, complete with myths explaining the origin of that universe. Myths are stories handed down through the ages, often used to explain a culture's practices or beliefs. In the world of the Sandman, a family of seven immortal, godlike creatures, known as the Endless, engage in cosmic struggles. Each of the Endless represents a different element of human emotions and experience—Dream, Desire, Despair, Destiny, Delirium (formerly Delight), Destruction, and Death. Known by a variety of names, including Sandman, Morpheus, Lord of the Dreaming, and Master of Story, Dream wanders through places both earthbound and otherworldly. Tall, thin, and pale, with spiky black hair, Dream is the ruler of the Dreaming, a sort of parallel universe that exists alongside earthly reality. Humans can enter the Dreaming only while sleeping. Dream is a mysterious figure, unknowable even to the most devoted readers. AAYA quoted Gaiman as saying, "He's definitely not human. I mean, he is the personification of dreams. He's the king of the dreaming place where you close your eyes each night and go. And whether he's [good or evil] depends an awful lot on where you're standing. From his own standards, he is always acting for the best, but his moral code and his point of view are not human."
Gaiman approached the Sandman stories in an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink frame of mind, incorporating mythologies of his own invention as well as ancient Greek myths. He also found inspiration in the mystical Jewish writings he had studied as a youth. He didn't stop there, however, as he explained to Scott Brown in Entertainment Weekly: "I just kept adding things, seeing if it would hold. I thought, Let's put Shakespeare in there. Okay, that worked. Well, surely I won't be able to add the Norse gods.... No, that worked too. But I certainly won't get away with angels." As Brown pointed out, "He got away with angels, and more." The Sandman stories are complicated, sophisticated works written on a grand scale. Gaiman's rich, multilayered universe presents a challenge to readers; these are not simple stories that can be grasped immediately. Gaiman's Sandman comics broke new ground in many ways. They brought female fans to the world of comics, a genre typically read mostly by men, and in addition they converted legions of readers who had never before considered comics to be serious literature. Gaiman's comics have won numerous awards, many of which are usually reserved for traditional prose works—short stories, novels, and the like—rather than comic books. In Entertainment Weekly, Brown quoted comics writer Moore, the object of Gaiman's admiration from early on, who said of Gaiman's Sandman creation: "It's a perfect legend. It's so good that it shouldn't really even have a writer. It should be one of those stories that's just always been there."
Throughout the initial eight-year run of the Sandman serials, DC Comics periodically collected several issues for publication as a graphic novel. The first such collection, Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes, introduces the reader to Sandman's universe. Sandman: The Wake includes the final installment of the series that concluded in 1996. Gaiman's many devoted fans felt crushed when the series ended, but the author revisited the character in several later works. In 1999 he released Sandman: The Dream Hunters, a collaboration with illustrator Yoshitaka Amano that retells a Japanese story titled "The Fox, the Monk, and the Mikado of All Night's Dreaming." A long-awaited continuation of the series appeared in 2003, with Sandman: Endless Nights garnering rave reviews, earning a number of awards, and securing a spot on the New York Times bestseller list. Endless Nights is a collection of seven separate stories, each devoted to one of the Endless and each illustrated by a different artist. Gaiman told Jeff Zaleski of Publishers Weekly that he takes pride in the variety of genres explored in Endless Nights: "Do you know what the coolest thing about Endless Nights is?... Not one of those stories is even in the same genre as any of the other stories."
"Warping young minds"
The Sandman also made an appearance in works Gaiman wrote for a young adult audience, showing up in a small role in Books of Magic, a collection of four comic books concerning the world of illusion and trickery. Sandman's sister, Death, played a prominent role in the Sandman spinoff Death: The High Cost of Living. In a once-per-century visit to Earth, Death helps a suicidal teenager discover new reasons for living.
In 2003 Gaiman released another work for young adult readers, the novel Coraline. In this work the title character, a young child, discovers a doorway in her new house that leads to a matching home in a different world. In that other world, a set of parents with pale skin and black button eyes ask Coraline to stay with them and be their daughter. Realizing that her own mother and father are in need of rescuing, Coraline then engages in a dangerous struggle with the "other mother" to retrieve her parents. Gaiman has also written books for young children, including the picture book The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, published in 1997. In that story, young Nathan trades his father for a bowl of goldfish. His mother, unhappy with the outcome of the trade, forces Nathan to retrieve his father, and the boy must engage in a series of exchanges to get his parent back. During 2003 Gaiman published another children's story, The Wolves in the Walls, in which the young heroine Lucy must convince her family that their home is being taken over by wolves. "I love writing children's books," Gaiman told Phil Anderson of KAOS2000. "I think I will always write children's books. I love warping young minds."
Gaiman is an extremely prolific writer who has created a long list of works in an impressive variety of genres. In addition to his comic books, graphic novels, and works for young people, he has also written several successful novels, including Neverwhere, which began as the script for a six-part series for British television, and American Gods, a bestseller in the United States that depicts a struggle between the European gods of ancient origin and the newer, more arrogant American gods. Gaiman has written numerous scripts for television and movies—in some cases working on film adaptations of his own works—with his best-known work being the English-language script for the highly praised Japanese animated film Princess Mononoke. During the summer of 2003 Gaiman returned to the comic book genre with the series 1602. Set in seventeenth-century England, this series is published by Marvel, a major rival of DC Comics.
At any given time Gaiman juggles several projects, and he also makes time for extensive book tours. His public appearances draw record numbers of fans, more than most authors, and he inspires in his followers the kind of adoration generally not experienced by authors. Fans have been known to faint at his book signings, and at least two have asked Gaiman to draw on a portion of their body, so they can then have his writing tattooed onto their skin. When not traveling the world to promote his works, Gaiman spends much of his time writing at his large Victorian home located near Minneapolis, a home he shares with McGrath and their youngest child, Maddy.
For More Information
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 42. Detroit: Gale, 2002.
Brown, Scott. "The Best Comic Book Ever Returns." Entertainment Weekly (October 3, 2003): p. 36.
Zaleski, Jeff. "Comics! Books! Film! The Arts and Ambitions of Neil Gaiman." Publishers Weekly (July 28, 2003): p. 46.
Anderson, Phil. "Interview with: Neil Gaiman." KAOS2000 Magazine. http://www.kaos2000.net/interviews/neilgaiman99.html (accessed on July 6, 2004).
Krewson, John. "Neil Gaiman." The Onion A.V. Club. http://www.theonionavclub.com/feature/index.php?issue=3504&f=1 (accessed on July 3, 2004).
Neil Gaiman Official Web site. http://www.neilgaiman.com/index.asp (accessed on July 6, 2004).
Richards, Linda. "Neil Gaiman." January Magazine. http://www.januarymagazine.com/profiles/gaiman.html (accessed on July 3, 2004).
White, Claire E. "A Conversation with Neil Gaiman." Writers Write. http://www.writerswrite.com/journal/mar99/gaiman.htm (accessed on July 3, 2004).
Born November 10, 1960 (Portchester, England)
British science fiction and comics, graphic novels writer
Many consider Neil Gaiman to be one of the greatest writers in the field of comics and graphic novels, and he is certainly one of the comic industry's biggest stars. His career began in 1987 with the publication of Violent Cases, a graphic novel illustrated by Gaiman's frequent collaborator, Dave McKean (1963–). When Gaiman began writing, comics were still considered by many to be an inferior form of storytelling, suitable only for children, but Gaiman helped to change people's perception of the medium by creating works of high artistic and literary quality. Black Orchid, The Books of Magic, and The Sandman are examples of Gaiman's early work.
"We have the right, and the obligation, to tell old stories in our own ways, because they are our stories."
Gaiman is a prolific author whose versatile range includes fantasy novels, children's books, graphic novels, short stories, and screenplays. His works American Gods and Coraline dominated the New York Times best-seller list, and both were honored with the Bram Stoker Award and Hugo Award. Gaiman is probably best known for The Sandman, a graphic novel series that The Cambridge Guide to Children's Literature in English has praised as "the most accomplished work of pure fantasy the form has yet produced; complex, dream-filled, and demanding." The series has attracted a large international readership and has been honored with numerous literary awards. The Sandman series—with ten graphic novel volumes published between 1991 and 1996, and an eleventh added in 2003—has been published in thirteen languages in nineteen countries; as of 2003, the series had sold more than seven million copies.
An aspiring young writer
Neil Gaiman was born on November 10, 1960, in Portchester, on the southern coast of England. From a very early age, Gaiman was encouraged by his mother to learn to read and write. He had learned to read by the age of three and was writing poetry a year later. By the age of five, Gaiman had read C. S. Lewis's fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia. Throughout his childhood, he made frequent trips to his local public library, where he would eventually read every book in the children's room before being set loose on the adult section. Gaiman loved stories involving magic and fantasy, especially the works of Lewis Carroll, James Branch Cabell, C. S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Best-Known Works for Young Adults
Violent Cases (1987).
Black Orchid (1991).
The Sandman 11 vols. (1991–96, 2003).
The Books of Magic (1993).
The Tragical Comedy, or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch (1995).
Death: The High Cost of Living (1996).
Marvel 1602 (2004).
American Gods (2001).
The Day I Swapped Two Goldfish for My Dad (1997).
The Wolves in the Walls (2003).
At the age of seven, Gaiman discovered a whole new form of storytelling: the American superhero comic book. A family friend lent Gaiman a box of comics that contained stories featuring Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Included in the box was the Justice League of America number 47, guest-starring DC's original incarnation of the Sandman, as well as Marvel's The Mighty Thor, a series that inspired Gaiman to read about the world of Norse mythology, a body of stories and legends passed down from early Scandinavian peoples. Gaiman became so entranced with comics that by the age of eleven he decided that he wanted to write them for a living.
In 1975, Gaiman met with a high school guidance counselor to discuss his dream of writing American superhero comics. Instead of encouraging him to enroll in a college writing program, the counselor strongly advised Gaiman to forget about comic books and begin training for a career in accounting. Discouraged, Gaiman stopped reading comics for the next nine years, though he didn't give up his dream of becoming a writer. Instead, Gaiman turned his attention to reading science fiction, and was especially inspired by the fiction of J. G. Ballard, Brian Aldiss, Samuel R. Delany, and Roger Zelazny, writers who questioned the value of technology and focused on the emotional lives of their characters. Shortly after high school, Gaiman begin writing his own stories, which he submitted to various magazines.
After eighteen months of rejection, Gaiman decided to change his approach and pursue journalism. As Gaiman recalls in The Sandman Companion, "Either I have no talent—which I do not choose to believe—or I'm simply not going about this the right way. I am going to switch to journalism, and in the process I'm going to figure out how the world works—how magazine articles get assigned, how books get published, how television scripts get sold." He purchased a copy of Writers' and Artists' Yearbook and began actively contacting editors. His efforts eventually paid off and he began getting writing assignments for British publications such as Time Out, The Observer, and The Sunday Times of London Magazine. During the early 1980s, Gaiman also started writing short stories for men's magazines and publishing monthly interviews with popular science fiction writers like Harry Harrison, Terry Jones, and Douglas Adams. "I was very lucky," Gaiman told Claire E. White on the Writers Write Web site, "because I made [the decision to become a journalist] at a time in England when lots and lots of magazines were getting stuff done by freelancers."
Rediscovers comic books
In 1984, Gaiman again began reading American comic books, an event that would change the course of his writing career forever. One afternoon while waiting for a train at Victoria Train Station in London, Gaiman happened upon a comic book called The Saga of Swamp Thing, number 25. Intrigued by the cover, he read it while standing at the newsstand, greatly admiring the quality of fellow Brit Alan Moore's writing. Moore (1953–; see entry) brought a fresh, innovative approach to storytelling unknown to comics at that time. As Gaiman recalls in The Sandman Companion, "I fell in love with comics again. It was like returning to an old flame and discovering that she was still beautiful." By issue number 27, Gaiman began buying Swamp Thing on a regular basis and was reinspired to write comic books. "Moore's work convinced me that you really could do work in comics that had the same amount of intelligence, the same amount of passion, the same amount of quality that you could put in any other medium," Gaiman was quoted in Authors and Artists for Young Adults. Soon after, Gaiman began corresponding with Alan Moore, and the two developed a close friendship. Moore became Gaiman's mentor and helped teach him about the techniques needed to write comic scripts. Gaiman has been married to Mary Therese McGrath since 1985, and they live near Minneapolis, Minnesota, where they have raised three children, Michael, Holly, and Maddy.
In 1986, Gaiman met the artist Dave McKean at a pub near his favorite comic shop. They quickly discovered that they shared a passion for comics and began working on their own comics, developing a partnership that has endured for twenty years. Later that year, an editor at Escape magazine offered them the opportunity to create a five-page comic strip for the magazine. Gaiman and McKean developed the project that would eventually become their first graphic novel, Violent Cases. Published in 1987, the graphic novel Violent Cases is about an unnamed adult narrator who looks back on his childhood memories about a visit to a doctor whose clientele included the notorious gangster, Al Capone. Their work caught the attention of Karen Berger, an editor at DC Comics, who had been working with Alan Moore.
On the recommendation of Alan Moore, Karen Berger and Dick Giordano (the vice president of DC Comics) met with Gaiman and McKean to discuss working on projects for their company. Berger and Giordano proposed that Gaiman and McKean create a story to relaunch Black Orchid, a short-lived series from the early 1970s. Gaiman and McKean's critically acclaimed Black Orchid was published as a four-issue mini-series. In the introduction to the trade paperback edition, Mikal Gilmore noted: "Reviewing this work now, it is clear that Black Orchid—like Frank Miller's Daredevil and Dark Knight and Alan Moore's Miracleman, Swamp Thing and Watchmen—is one of those books that has helped break modern comics history in two and signaled the rise of a new courage and a new spirit of aspiration within the medium." To help promote Black Orchid, Berger felt that the unknown Gaiman needed a regular monthly series to help establish his name, since a regular series would attract more readers than a mini-series. Berger offered him the chance to write The Sandman.
The original Sandman was a minor character invented in the 1940s and largely forgotten by the 1980s. It thus provided Gaiman with a blank slate on which he could inscribe his own vision. Drawing on his love of mythology, Gaiman created a family of characters known as "The Endless." This pantheon included Lord Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams (also known as the Sandman), and his siblings Desire, Destiny, Despair, Destruction, Delirium, and Death. These beings are not gods; rather, they are "endless beings," or immortals who represent constants in human life. Originally published as a monthly comic book, the series debuted in 1989 and ran for seventy-five issues, ending in 1996. In 2003, Gaiman added a new volume to the series when he released The Sandman: Endless Nights, a graphic novel that contained a story about each of the Endless characters. Though the series is very popular among young adults, its content is very mature, with direct and sometimes explicit treatments of violence and sexuality.
Gaiman combined elements from literature, mythology, fantasy, family drama, philosophy, and horror to create a unique blend of storytelling that had never been seen in comics before. Working with a diverse group of illustrators such as Sam Keith, Kelly Jones, P. Craig Russell, and Jill Thompson, Gaiman created stories about the Sandman, a thin, pale, black-clad immortal who reigns over the world of dreams. Hy Bender noted in The Sandman Companion that "The Sandman violates all the rules about what makes a character popular in the superhero-dominated comic industry. Instead of fighting criminals, or saving lives, his sole concern is to maintain 'The Dreaming,' which is the infinite, ever-changing psychic landscape we visit every night while asleep. Rather than being muscular, cheery, and colorful, he's thin, humorless, and perpetually dressed in black." The Sandman stories vary in length from single-issue short stories to novels told over the course of six or
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more issues. Some stories are set in the present and some in the past, occurring in a variety of settings, including the realm of dreams, New York City, Shakespearean England, and even Hell. Gaiman has commented that he kept taking the series to new places to see how far it could stretch, and he never found its limits. Every issue of the series, as well as the graphic novel collections, features innovative collage-style covers by Dave McKean, though the stories are illustrated by a variety of artists.
Gaiman developed an approach to creating his comic scripts that he called "full script," according to Authors and Artists for Young Adults. "You start with page one, panel one, and you describe everything in the panel. And you tell the artist what to draw. Then you go on to panel two. And you may well tell them what size the panels are, what kind of feeling you're after, etc." The level of detail that Gaiman provided meant that creating a script was incredibly time-consuming. He estimated that the entire script for The Sandman series was more than two thousand pages long, or more than a million words.
The result was a groundbreaking, critically acclaimed fantasy series that attracted a wide readership of both males and females who ran the gamut from comic book fans and college students to university professors. Over the years, reviewers lauded The Sandman with accolades rarely granted to comics. In 1995, Common-weal book critic Frank McConnell called the ongoing story "the best piece of fiction being done these days," adding that with these series Gaiman has established "the fact that a comic book can be a work of high and very serious art." A contributor to the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers wrote that The Sandman stories "are almost uniformly excellent and any one of them would make a good starting point for those readers who … have yet to discover the rare but powerful joy inherent in a great comic book." The Sandman series garnered many awards, including The World Fantasy Award, the Will Eisner Comic Industry Award, and the Harvey Award. It also made Gaiman a celebrity; handsome and always willing to attend book signings and comic conventions, Gaiman became immensely popular among comics fans.
The Sandman is Gaiman's best-known and most-popular creation, though it is hardly his only contribution to the world of literature. He has written widely for adults, penning novels, short fiction, nonfiction, and screenplays. Gaiman has also created several titles for younger readers. His graphic novel The Books of Magic introduced readers to Timothy Hunter, a teenage boy who learns that he is destined to become the world's greatest magician. The book provides an engaging and sometimes frightening look at the world of magic. In Death: The High Cost of Living, Gaiman borrows the character Death from his Sandman series. In this graphic novel, Death appears on Earth as a sixteen-year-old girl who befriends a potentially suicidal teenage boy in order to show him that life is worth living. In the graphic novel The Tragical Comedy, or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch, Gaiman and Dave McKean create an unsettling story about the cruelty of life as seen through the eyes of a young boy. McKean's use of painting, photography, and multimedia collage created one of the most unique experiments in the world of graphic novels.
Gaiman's prose works include the children's horror novel Coraline, about a young girl who discovers a dark and strange parallel world that exists on the other side of a door in her house. His children's picture book The Wolves in the Walls combines elements of humor and horror as the young protagonist, Lucy, battles the wolves who have taken over her family home. In American Gods, Gaiman explores the landscape of American culture and the mythologies that have shaped it. Gaiman's projects in the early 2000s include the graphic novel Marvel 1602, which imagines what it would be like if the Marvel superheroes X-Men, Daredevil, Doom, and others were sent to work in early seventeenth-century England; Anansi Boys, a sequel to American Gods; and the film Mirror Mask, a collaboration with Dave McKean.
For More Information
Bender, Hy. The Sandman Companion. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1999.
McCabe, Joseph. Hanging Out with the Dream King: Conversations with Neil Gaiman and His Collaborators. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, 2004.
Olson, Steven P. Neil Gaiman. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2005.
Brown, Scott. "The Best Comic Book Ever Returns." Entertainment Weekly (October 3, 2003): 36.
McConnell, Frank. "Sandman." Commonweal (October 20, 1995): 21.
Thompson, Kim. "Neil Gaiman Interview." The Comics Journal, No. 155 (January 1993).
The Official Neil Gaiman Web site. http://www.neilgaiman.com (accessed on May 3, 2006).
White, Claire E. "A Conversation with Neil Gaiman." Writers Write. http://www.writerswrite.com/journal/mar99/gaiman.htm (accessed on May 3, 2006).